Mozilla first reveals, then conceals, paid support plan for Firefox
Mozilla earlier this month quietly outlined paid support for enterprise users of Firefox, but last week scrubbed the reference from its website, saying that it is "still exploring that option."
The offering - labeled "Mozilla Enterprise Client Support" - was to start at $10 per "supported installation," which likely referred to per-device, not per-user, pricing. It's unclear whether that was an annual or monthly fee, and Mozilla declined to say which it was when asked.
In return for the fee, Mozilla said on the now-absent Firefox enterprise site - still visible through the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine - customers would be able to privately report bugs via a new web portal and receive fixes on a timeline dependent on the impact and urgency of the problem. Customers would also be able to file requests for help with Firefox's installation and deployment, management policies, functionality and customization.
Support customers were to have an inside track on feature requests - although Mozilla said it would not commit to delivering said features - and Mozilla would provide them with "proactive notification on critical Firefox events," although the company did not describe what that would entail.
A detailed service level agreement (SLA) for Mozilla Enterprise Client Support published on the firm's website included everything from how support requests would be escalated and the targeted response times.
Other information, including pricing, required customers to reach out to Mozilla's sales staff.
But on Monday, Mozilla said it was all premature.
"We work in the open, so often ideas under consideration are made public before we've committed fully to their pursuit," a Mozilla spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "The page outlining that these paid support services for enterprise clients will be available was posted incorrectly."
But the spokesperson did not dispute that Mozilla might get around to selling support. Firefox's enterprise roadmap "could eventually include additional paid support down the line," Mozilla said, "but we're still exploring that option.
"As we continue to improve our enterprise offerings, we will share more details about what those services will entail," the spokesperson said.
It was hard to see the posting of the paid support information as an accident. According to the WayBack Machine's archives, the description of Mozilla Enterprise Client Support first appeared on the site on Sept. 4. It was still there on Sept. 11, a week later, a long time for a mistake to go unnoticed or uncorrected. Meanwhile, the program's SLA remained untouched.
On Sept. 12, Martin Brinkman of Ghacks broke the news of Firefox paid support. By the next day, Sept. 13, the particulars had been expunged from Mozilla's site. Almost certainly, Mozilla scotched the text after Brinkman's story drew attention to the program.
Elsewhere, Mozilla referred to the program as an "initial pilot," signaling that it has been, or would be, tested with some customers before being rolled out to all comers.
Money maker? Or money pit?
It would not be a surprise if - or when - Mozilla asks enterprises to pony up for better support. It's not as if other developers don't charge for support that goes above and beyond what's available for free to the general public.
It might also be new revenue for Mozilla, which for years has cast about for ways to make money other than to sell the search engine default to companies like Google and Yahoo. (Although historically, software support often ends up as a cost center that doesn't generate much if any revenue.)
Just as important, paid support could help Mozilla position Firefox as an alternative to Chrome - and to Microsoft's Chromium-built Edge as well - in the enterprise. Manageability is important to corporate IT, but so is access to immediate support when mission-critical tools go south. In many ways, enterprise support is a box that needs to be checked for a developer to be seen as serious about the market, whether a large number of customers pay for such support or not.
Questions remain about Mozilla's plans, though. Will Mozilla Enterprise Client Support apply to the rapidly-updated Firefox - the one consumers use - as well as Firefox Extended Support Release (ESR), the build which upgrades about once a year? Or only the business-grade latter? How will paid support integrate with other for-a-fee services that Mozilla plans, or does it need to? And importantly, will enterprises even pay for browser support?