Why Firefox Is Hardly Doomed

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 Chrome’s momentum and the “immovable object” of Microsoft’s 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.

Related GigaOM Pro Research:

Image courtesy of Flickr user Johnath.

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