Mozilla Officially Shuts Down Firefox Voice Browser Extension
Mozilla officially announced the end date for Firefox Voice, pulling the plug on the Firefox Voice and Firefox Voice Fill browser extensions. The writing had been on the wall since August, but the company has now set a final date and plan for the code behind the extensions before it shuts down down the Speech Proxy Server that powered them.
Mozilla began experimenting with Firefox Voice Fill in 2017, testing speech-to-text technology and other features. Last January, Firefox Voice debuted voice controls for the whole browser as a beta test. The extension operated like a voice assistant within the browser awakened by clicking on a microphone icon. It could answer questions via a search engine and open specific web pages if it understood the name of the website. Like Voice Fill, it managed browser tabs and media playback on videos, including YouTube. The extension used the Google Cloud Speech Service, routing voice commands through Google’s servers.
“We are decommissioning the Mozilla Speech Proxy Server on February 28, 2021. This server helped power the Voice Fill 131 and Firefox Voice Beta 106 extensions, and as a result of the server decommissioning, we will be retiring these extensions,” Mozilla explained in an blog post. “Thank you to everyone who participated in and contributed to Mozilla’s projects to bring voice data and deep learning algorithms available to the open source world.”
Mozilla is going to automatically uninstall both extensions from browsers on Feb. 19. The code will live on at GitHub. The 5,836 Voice Fill and 11,523 Firefox Voice users had given each extension an average of 3.8 stars but the low user count may have contributed to their doom. When Mozilla announced a major reorganization of the company last August, the Firefox Voice team was part of the hundreds of employees let go. You can learn more about that and the Firefox Voice story from the Voicebot Podcast interview with Ian Bicking of Firefox Voice in September.
The gap left by Firefox Voice has several competitors trying to fill it. Google has been pushing to replace voice search on Chrome with Google Assistant both on desktop and Android., so Mozilla’s concept isn’t entirely new. There are also new options from the other direction such as speak2web and its WordPress plugin for people to search and shop by voice within websites, as well as mobile apps. The speak2web platform uses indexed data on a website to make it easier to search for information and can also carry out transactions for online shopping entirely by voice. And Mozilla still has some useful data to share. The Mozilla Common Voice program released 7,226 hours of transcribed recordings in 54 languages, a total of 5.5 million clips to designers of voice apps and voice-enabled devices last year.