Mozilla, the company behind Firefox, today announced that it’s laying off 250 employees, apparently shuttering the team responsible for most of its web-focused XR development. Hubs, the company’s web-based social VR app, will continue forward.
Mozilla has been a leading proponent for bringing XR experiences to the web. Five years ago the company published a guest article on Road to VR laying down their plans to make VR a “first class citizen on the web.”
In the intervening years the company’s XR team has created and contributed to a foundation for immersive experiences on the web with projects like A-Frame, WebVR & WebXR support in Firefox, WebXR Viewer on iOS, the Firefox Reality browser, Hubs, and more.
Hubs—perhaps the team’s most ambitious project to date—is an immersive social space that runs directly in the browser with no installation and has rich support for VR headsets while still being accessible through smartphone and PC browsers. Supporting Hubs is Spoke, a completely browser-based 3D modeling tool that lets anyone build custom spaces for Hubs.
Hubs (and possibly Spoke by extension) may turn out to be the only ones of the bunch to survive the shuttering of Mozilla’s XR team which has come as part of a layoff of some 250 of the company’s 1,000 or so employees.
The company announced the news today saying that “significant restructuring” needed to happen to “ensure financial stability over the long term.” In an internal message shared today with employees, the company said the layoffs were more than a short-term decision:
The changes we’re making today are focused on creating an organization that is best equipped to provide products and services that deliver on our mission and aim to make Mozilla Corporation sustainable, over the long term, in the COVID and post-COVID eras. We did not simply “trim.” We did not approach this as a stop-gap or a way to get us through the next few months. We looked at what Mozilla Corporation needs to do to be sustainable and have impact over time. Then we reshaped the organization to meet this, mapping the critical roles and skill sets required to deliver on this outcome.
According to the message, the restructuring will bring a “new product organization outside of Firefox that will both ship new products faster and develop new revenue streams.”
Initial projects handled by that group will include Hubs, the company says, among non-VR projects like Pocket, VPN, Web Assembly, and security & privacy products.
The company hasn’t offered much more in the way of detail, but an employee on Twitter said that the company is “closing down the XR team,” which suggests that most of the company’s immersive web projects beyond Hubs may not continue.
Another Mozilla employee urged on Twitter, “don’t write off Mozilla Hubs just yet. We’re still here, fighting for the open web,” and said that the company’s XR team has “put us in a position to succeed and we won’t let their work go to waste. Hubs was designed from the start to be resilient and we will get through this.”
Earlier this year Mozilla launched Hubs Cloud. While anyone can make and join rooms for free in Hubs, with Hubs Cloud, Mozilla is giving away the foundation of the platform itself so that organizations can use it as a basis for their own, self-hosted virtual spaces that can be customized and extended to their needs, making it a decentralized platform.