January 16, 2019 // 10:55 a.m.
Mozilla has announced that it is closing its Firefox Test Pilot programme, which allowed users to sign up to test new browser features before they were made available to the general public, after three years.
Mozilla's Firefox, as with the company's other products, is open-source, meaning that it's possible for anyone to fork the code base, make any changes they desire, and then either use their modified version or submit their changes back to Mozilla for possible inclusion in the mainstream branch using a pull request. For those who don't want to get involved in the nitty-gritty of programming features themselves, Mozilla launched the Test Pilot programme: A system whereby, when activated, groups of users would be given access to proposed, written, but not-yet-released beta features. The programme shouldn't be confused with simple installation of beta Firefox builds: Each feature was presented within the user's current browser version, while telemetry was collected to see how well - or otherwise - it worked so decisions as to whether to make it available generally could be made.
Sadly, the Test Pilot programme is now coming to an end. 'Test Pilot was designed to harness the energy of our most passionate users. We gave them early prototypes and product explorations that weren’t ready for wide release. In return, they gave us feedback and patience as these projects evolved into the highly polished features within our products today. Through this programme we have been able to iterate quickly, try daring new things, and build products that our users have been excited to embrace,' writes Mozilla's Marissa Morris in the announcement. 'Test Pilot performed better than we could have ever imagined.
'As a result of this programme we’re now in a stronger position where we are using the knowledge that we gained from small groups, evangelising the benefits of rapid iteration, taking bold (but safe) risks, and putting the user front and centre. We’re applying these valuable lessons not only to continued product innovation, but also to how we test and ideate across the Firefox organization. So today, we are announcing that we will be moving to a new structure that will demonstrate our ability to innovate in exciting ways and as a result we are closing the Test Pilot program as we’ve known it.'
This shift won't leave existing Test Pilot features which have not yet graduated to final release high and dry, however: Morris has confirmed that standalone Test Pilot betas such as the Firefox Send encrypted file sharing platform will remain accessible and soliciting feedback, while other features built into the browser will live on as official Add Ons which can be installed into Firefox if required. The change also doesn't affect Mozilla Labs, the company's experimental research division.