September 11, 2019 | 11:25
Mozilla is relaunching the Test Pilot programme in its Firefox browser, less than a year after it closed it down, to support a beta test of built-in virtual private network (VPN) technology.
Mozilla announced it was removing the Test Pilot beta-test functionality, which allowed users to opt-in to receive new browser features ahead of their public release, back in January this year. '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,'' said Mozilla's Marissa Morris at the time. '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.'
That closure, however, appears to have been premature: Mozilla has confirmed it is bringing the Test Pilot programme back, as the best way to support the testing and deployment of a new feature for Firefox users: A built-in virtual private network (VPN) client.
'Like a cat, the Test Pilot program has had many lives. It originally started as an Add-on before we relaunched it three years ago. Then in January, we announced that we were evolving our culture of experimentation, and as a result we closed the Test Pilot program to give us time to further explore what was next,' Marissa Morris explains in the latest project update. 'If you haven’t heard, third time’s the charm. We’re turning to our loyal and faithful users, specifically the ones who signed up for a Firefox account and opted-in to be in the know about new products testing, and are giving them a first crack to test-drive new, privacy-centric products as part of the relaunched Test Pilot program. The difference with the newly relaunched Test Pilot program is that these products and services may be outside the Firefox browser, and will be far more polished, and just one step shy of general public release.'
The new Test Pilot launches with Firefox Private Network, an extension which adds built-in VPN functionality to the browser. When activated, the extension adds a toggle which enables and disables the VPN - protecting users, Morris claims, from information disclosure on untrusted networks like public Wi-Fi access points.
Full details of Firefox Private Network can be found in the announcement post, but its rollout is currently limited: Only users of the desktop variant of the browser residing in the United States will be eligible to try the feature out at present.
March 25 2020 | 14:00