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Why Firefox Is Hardly Doomed

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Even as Mozilla rolls out Release Candidate 2 of its Firefox 3.6 browser update, and is only days away from the official release, some are convinced that the upstart open source browser is doomed. However, Mozilla’s director of Firefox, Mike Beltzner, provides some good reasons why it isn’t.

According to a post from InfoWorld, Google (s Goog) Chrome’s momentum and the “immovable object” of Microsoft’s (s MSFT) Internet Explorer browser spell trouble for Firefox. The post also points to changes in Firefox’s development model:

“Now we hear that Mozilla is abandoning its traditional major release cycle model in favor of smaller, incremental changes that it will slipstream through security patches and other maintenance updates. Basically, Mozilla’s developers are admitting that they can no longer deliver a fully baked and tested Firefox release in a timely fashion. So they’re switching to an incremental model where they can deliver progress in more manageable chunks, thus bypassing the lengthy external beta/feedback process altogether.”

While it’s true that Mozilla can’t continue to deliver major updates to Firefox at a machine-gun pace anymore, a talk I had with Mozilla’s Beltzner leads me to believe that it will continue to strip market share from Internet Explorer, in particular. Historically, a large part of the reason for Firefox’s success has been the thriving ecosystem of useful extensions available for the browser. The active community of extension developers helps make the browser better than the competition, and Internet Explorer and Chrome have not caught up in that area.

Mozilla has drawn criticism for possibly moving to an app store model for paid extensions, which could hurt the ecosystem of free extensions. Beltzner told me, though, that there is as of yet “no decision about moving to a paid model or not.”

He also said:

“It doesn’t really intersect with our community values because it’s at odds with open source and openness.”

He stressed that Mozilla is seeking to retain core open values for Firefox development. I asked him, for example, about the arguments going on regarding HTML 5 for video within browsers as opposed to other plug-in and proprietary solutions. “Video needs to be part of dynamic web pages, and that’s why we think the HTML 5 tag is inevitable,” he said. “Plug-ins aren’t as efficient. We shouldn’t have to wait for vendors to create plug-ins, and wrestle with situations like no Flash being available for the iPhone. We look to open source for solutions, and that’s why we chose OGG [an open source video format].”

In a demo of the Firefox 3.6 release candidate, Beltzner emphasized that Mozilla wants Firefox to be the best browser at efficiently running web applications. “Web apps need to understand files, and so does the browser,” he said. He also showed off how Firefox will increasingly allow users to drag and drop files and widgets directly to the browser from the desktop. And he stressed that Mozilla is very focused on Firefox’s ability to work efficiently with HD video.

Over the long haul, I expect Mozilla is going to continue to see its greatest competition for Firefox — at least in terms of browser innovation – -come from Google Chrome, which is also open source. Google is focused on efficiently running web applications in Chrome, and has created a very stable browser for them.

But until we see the very enthusiastic open source community surrounding Firefox failing to help its advancement, I don’t think we’re anywhere near Firefox being “doomed.” Mozilla’s own additions to the browser may come slower as Firefox’s size and popularity increase, but there is no browser that draws the same level of useful participation from the open source community as Firefox — not Google’s, and not Microsoft’s.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user Johnath.

16 Responses to “Why Firefox Is Hardly Doomed”

  1. I’ll give you a user’s POV. I’ve used and loved FF for a few years now. And IME IE has simply gone Downhill rather than gotten better.

    But a couple of months ago I downloaded Chrome, and after a very slow start, the darn thing has become addictive. True, at this point there are far fewer extensions available, but that is changing.

    I see two problems with FF. First, when google pulls its monetary support from it, I have no idea what they are going to do. Second, FF’s memory usage is unacceptable around here.

    And with FF 3.6, extension incompatibility completely broke the installation. I will have to reinstall from scratch, then add back some three dozen extensions. Frankly, I doubt that I’m going to go to that trouble. Yesterday, I made Chrome my default browser.

    Chrome does use a lot of memory when many tabs are open, but unlike FF, gives it back when the tabs are closed. And with a smaller number of tabs I’ve had no memory problem at all with Chrome; not so with FF, which leaks badly.

    I’m negative on google’s company ethics, which I see as something quite different indeed from its stated “don’t be evil” philosophy (for one example, see, especially the post from “portablebrain”), but the fact remains that google keeps putting out excellent products that people need. And in many cases the alternative, which often is MS, is no better.

    So while I wish FF the best, it seems to me that they’re indeed in a squeeze.

  2. Mozilla seems to have confused their Mission. It is not to get as many people as possible to use their browser. It’s not to collect big money which they seem not to know how to use (Newspaper ads!) from google. And it’s certainly not to create the only open source model in the world that is dependent on Google revenue.

    Their Mission is to make a better browser. I wish they would focus on that. Getting hung up on marketing is just a waste.

    • Asa Dotzler

      Actually, you’re confused about Mozilla’s mission.

      Making a better browser is not Mozilla’s mission. Mozilla’s mission is to promote choice, innovation, and participation on the Web.

      The browser is a means to that end, not the end in and of itself.

  3. FreeBooteR

    I’ve noticed the firefox is doomed posts springing out from the shadows right after IE started getting trashed, with national governements telling people not to use IE.

    Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  4. Firefox is doomed is they can’t get quality control down. Whenever one of the users I support complains about Firefox seizing up, I tell them to download Google Chrome.

  5. real challenge for firefox is in mobile space where webkit has dominated .it would be interesting to see what kind of effect it will have on PC side esp for future evolution of browser .

  6. firefoxer

    Actually, the infoworld article was a bit of a surprise! Why would Firefox be wiped out?

    Let us not forget that if (that’s a very big IF) Firefox is “wiped” out, we still have k-meleon which runs on the same Gecko rendering engine:)..The source code is still there…Take a look at the many “Linux” distros as an example…Some distros die out while others become more and more popular…

    I would however, love to see Firefox continue to dominate the market and become much more better. Good luck!

  7. Yes, it’s hardly doomed! If you compare Firefox source code and architecture with Google Chrome you’ll know why… and you’ll know more if you develop firefox extensions. Google Chrome architecture is really smart (just look at the GIT) and doing firefox extensions requires a lot of extra efforts beyond programming (xul, xbl, xml, js, rdf).

  8. @pcdinh, good points. I don’t know if you’ve tried the latest RC of Firefox, but I’ve found it to be quite stable. I mentioned to Mike that the last couple of FF releases have been more stable than in the past. I think they’re working on this, but you’re right, some previous versions weren’t stable enough.


  9. FF will never be doomed until we can find a browser that is much better and get much bigger love from the community. Google Chrome is very innovative but eats a lot of memory when you opened a lot of tabs (more than ten). Firefox eats less memory.

    Flash, Shockwave do not work properly in Chrome, leading to very bad user experience when using Chrome.

    However, I must admit that the recent FF version are not stable at all. Sometimes, I opened tens of tabs, did nothing and kept them idle for a long time. Then FF crashed. I guess that FF team need to look into their memory management model