A top VR web browser is closing down. Today, Mozilla announced it’s shutting down its Firefox Reality browser — the four-year-old browser built for use in virtual reality environments. The technology had allowed users to access the web from within their VR headset, doing things like visiting URLs, performing searches, and browsing both the 2D and 3D internet using your VR hand controllers, instead of a mouse.
Firefox Reality first launched in fall 2018 and has been available on Viveport, Oculus, Pico, and Hololens platforms through their various app stores. While capable of surfing the 2D web, the expectation was that users would largely use the new technology to browse and interact with the web’s 3D content, like 360-degree panoramic images and videos, 3D models, and WebVR games, for example. But in an announcement published today, Mozilla says the browser will be removed from the stores where it’s been available for download in the “coming weeks.”
Mozilla is instead directing users who still want to utilize a web browser in VR to Igalia’s upcoming open-source browser, Wolvic, which is based on Firefox Reality’s source code. This browser will be available for download starting next week, so users won’t have to go without — they’ll just have to make the switch.
Igalia touts its commitment to the XR space — XR being the umbrella term that covers both virtual reality and augmented reality and similar technologies. But its own announcement hints that the company felt Mozilla’s efforts on this front had stalled, noting how it’s excited to take up the experiment and “continue this work as a complete project.”
“We at Igalia believe the Web is important to the XR space in a large number of ways. XR systems which provide an immersive OS need web browsers to be part of that,” the announcement on the Igalia website states. “Entering a ‘reality’ without access to everything that already exists on the Web would be pretty terrible. Additionally, WebXR opens new avenues to navigate, share, and experience information driven from within the browser itself. Reimagining a browser for an immersive OS is new ground, and that newness means browser choice is currently limited,” it says.
Initially, the Wolvic browser will run on Oculus, HTC Vive Focus, Pico Interactive, Daydream, Huawei AR Glasses, and open-source Lynx devices. However, the browser that launches next week will still be in a “beta” phase as it works to transition some of the features Mozilla had previously provided over to its own browser.
Igalia has secured partial funding over the next two years to work on its browser project, but says it will need to find additional partners to be successful in building out a healthy ecosystem. It invites those interested in helping to reach out via email.
In explaining why it decided to close up Firefox Reality, Mozilla that while it does help develop new technologies, like WebVR and WebAR, it doesn’t always continue to host and incubate those technologies long-term. In some cases, it will work to find other organizations where its projects can continue, pointing to examples like WebAssembly, Rust, and Servo. Of course, as an organization still known best-known to mainstream consumers for its once hugely popular Firefox web browser, it’s telling that it’s turning over the future of its latest browser technology to another company to run.