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Oct 15 2018

Firefox Removes Integrated Feed Reader

Gloomy days ahead for those among us who still rely on RSS or Atom feeds to keep track of the daily news cycle: In version 64 of its Firefox browser, which is due out in the second week of December, Mozilla will remove the built-in functionality that enabled users to receive and read articles from channels they had subscribed to.

While it's always a little saddening to see a classic piece of software vanish, Mozilla's decision doesn't come entirely unexpected. Other non-Microsoft browsers already stopped supporting both feed formats in 2012 (Apple Safari) and 2013 (Google Chrome), and the Firefox UI designers had opted to remove the prominent RSS/Atom button from the browser interface years ago. Microsoft's Edge browser, which debuted alongside Windows 10 in 2015, didn't support the technology from the start. So once Mozilla finally drops the feature, Internet Explorer will be the last of the browser war survivors to still offer default support.

To justify its decision, Mozilla cites economic (or rather: commercial) reasons. According to Gijs Kruitbosch, one of the software engineers working on Firefox, maintaining the feature and keeping it up to date would simply be too expensive, especially since usage has declined substantially since the RSS/Atom heydays in the late 1990's and early 2000's – the feeds are now pulled up in 0.01% of all sessions, he claims in a blog published last Thursday. In addition, Kruitbosch argues that the XML-based feed readers don't play well with more modern technologies that have emerged over the past two decades, such as podcasts, syncing or the bunch of mobile browsers created explicitly for smartphones. And upgrading the Firefox code in order to eliminate these problems would also not be economically feasible. The same logic was applied to the Live Bookmarks feature, which will also be discontinued in December.

For avid RSS and Atom users, there's still a silver lining. Per Mozilla's official announcement, the developers will only 'kill' the integrated feed reader, but users will be able to 'revive' the functionality with a selection of curated readers from Mozilla's add-on repository, such as Feedbro or Livemarks. Live Bookmarks can either be exported into an OPML file or turned into regular bookmarks, provided Firefox can find the URL. Users working with Firefox in a corporate setting won't have to worry for another year, as Firefox 60 ESR still has the feed reader on board; however, Firefox 68 ESR, which is due in October 2019, will drop it as well.


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