Perhaps the hardest decision for a software developer to take is to discontinue a moderately successful product. Some products are outright failures and thus relatively easy to let go. Some are runaway hits for which this is not even a consideration. Those that lie in the middle are the problematic ones: they have plenty of fans, some extremely passionate. But after a while you have to ask yourself: is this the most productive way for me to be spending my time?
This is the situation with WebRunner today. According to Mozilla Add-ons there are between 5000 and 6000 active users. To put this in perspective, consider that the 100th most popular add-on has almost 200,000 users. At the same time, I know from many public and private conversations that the product has its share of ardent fans. I strongly believe that with sufficient effort in technology and marketing, the product could be a top add-on with a much larger user base.
One problem is that this effort carries a huge opportunity cost. Salsita is flourishing and the 10-20 hours/week I spend personally on WebRunner is precious time that I could otherwise spend managing our growing team, developing our business and exploring various exciting side projects that are currently undernourished. The lamentable fact is that we’ve been neglecting WebRunner for a while for exactly this reason, and it would now need significant work to turn it into a hit product. This includes deep architectural changes like moving away from binary XPCOM and towards js-ctypes, which is essential now that Firefox releases break binary XPCOM compatibility. It also means integrating a host of newer web standards (e.g. for desktop notifications) that didn’t exist when WebRunner was first released.
Moreover, the logical place to get WebRunner-like functionality is from the browser vendors themselves. Chrome has been offering this for ages (though lamentably Mac support still requires some hacking). Internet Explorer 9 has pinned sites. The day that Mozilla catches up and releases this functionality, WebRunner will be rendered instantly obsolete.
Mozilla is now discussing exactly this, and personally I see this as great news. I’m sad to see WebRunner go but a whole lot happier to see its legacy live on where it truly belongs: built into Firefox. I do hope that some of the concrete ideas and even code from WebRunner will be picked up by the Mozilla team. I also hope that they will take the opportunity to mine an incredible resource: the ideas, impressions and lessons that the users of the Prism and WebRunner can offer after using these products over the past four years.
What does this mean?
As of today, Salsita Software will no longer be actively maintaining the free version of WebRunner. We submitted the latest version (for Firefox 6.0) to the Mozilla Add-ons site last week and expect it to be approved in the next week or so. We will not be releasing new versions after that, so as soon as Firefox 7.0 comes out, WebRunner will no longer work.
We will make the source code available, and if anyone wants to take over maintenance of the code base, they are welcome to do so. Be forewarned, however, that with the amount of binary code in WebRunner, building release versions on all platforms every six weeks is a considerable effort that has contributed to our decision to discontinue the product.
Naturally we remain interested in working on single-site browser projects for clients, whether based on WebRunner or not, and we have unparalleled expertise in this area. In particular, if your company is using WebRunner and you would like to discuss continued maintenance, don’t hesitate to contact us.
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