If you suffered through the Skype outage earlier this week, Mozilla would like you to know that you have another option: Firefox Hello.
The latest update of the Firefox browser (version 41.0) adds instant-message capabilities to Firefox Hello, the integrated VoIP client that Mozilla has put in the browser with assistance from Telefonica. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t need a dedicated client—or even a Mozilla browser—to work.
To access Firefox Hello’s new capabilities, you’ll need the latest version of Firefox. (Firefox should update automatically, but you can force an update by opening the “hamburger” menu in the upper right, then finding the tiny “?” or help button near the bottom of the menu choices. Then click on “About Firefox” and the browser will kick off the update.)
To access Hello, you’ll need to click the “smiley-face” conversation icon in the menu bar, to the upper right. A small video window will then open, and you’ll have the option to send or share a link with your friends. (You can also adjust the “context” of the chat, meaning that you can send a quick note to let a friend know what it will be about.)
Hello seems to work just fine—if it can detect the correct hardware. I tried it with a Lenovo Yoga 13, and it couldn’t find either my microphone or video camera. (Skype found my video camera, but not an attached microphone, so there may be issues there.) On a Surface Pro 3, Firefox Hello used the rear camera rather than the front-facing camera, so I shared a lovely view of my monitor stand. I can’t see an easy way to fix that, either. Chatting worked fine, however, as you might expect. There’s even an option to share your screen (either tabs or windows) through I did not try that out.
Although Firefox fared well in our latest browser tests, the company has struggled to compete with the more entrenched browsers: Internet Explorer (built into Windows), Apple's Safari (integrated into Mac OS), and the Chrome browser that ships with Chromebooks and that millions of users have independently downloaded on other platforms. According to NetApplications, Firefox ranks fourth, with 9.5 percent of the market in August.
Why this matters: You might argue that Firefox Hello is a gimmick. On the other hand, it’s also a way to add value. Browsers like Edge can tap services like Microsoft’s Cortana to add new capabilties, but Mozilla doesn’t have that option. On the other hand, Firefox has always been known for its extensive plugin support; Hello simply pushes one of these into the spotlight.