A difficult future for Firefox

Mozilla's Firefox browser is the plucky browser that came from nowhere to capture around 25% of the browser usage share. But in the face of still competition from browsers new (Google's Chrome) and old (Opera and Safari), future gains might not come as easy.

Mozilla's Firefox browser is the plucky browser that came from nowhere to capture around 25% of the browser usage share. But in the face of still competition from browsers new (Google's Chrome) and old (Opera and Safari), future gains might not come as easy.

Let's face it, browsers are getting better and better with each release, and while that's good for users, it's not so good for those who make a business of making better browsers.

Take Mozilla's Firefox. Here's a browser that was forged at a time when Microsoft's Internet Explorer commanded a massive market share not because it was good (it wasn't) but because there wasn't much in the way of an alternative. Mozilla entered the browser market with a mission of making a browser that was more secure that Microsoft's offering, and then by concentrating on speed and features. Having an extensions platform built right into the browser also helped greatly because it allowed developers to fill in the features gap, and prevented bloat by allowing users the option to choose what features they needed.

Good times.

The problem though is that any real competition (in any market) tends to dissipate complacency. Face with even a small slide in market share, Microsoft worked on making Internet Explorer better. OK, not better than Firefox, just better than Internet Explorer was. After all, the browser just has to be good enough to stop people checking out other browsers. And as it stands, Internet Explorer 8 is streets ahead of previous versions. It's nowhere near as good as the competition, but it's good enough!

One feature that Firefox has had that other browser have not is extensions. Extension in Firefox allow you to customize the browser to do things that you wouldn't think possible. There are countless extensions out there that do things ranging from blocking ads to totally customizing the page. That gives Firefox users (and Firefox) a lot of power.

But extensions are coming to Google Chrome ...

I've gone full circle with Firefox. Initially, while I applauded the idea, Firefox really didn't fit in with my browsing habits as I needed compatibility. Then, slowly and over time, the upstart browser won me over and I became a regular user. However, that was around the same time Google Chrome came onto the horizon and other browsers (in particular, Internet Explorer) started getting better. All of a sudden loyalty to one browser didn't make sense.

And the statistics hold this out. Over the past year, Google Chrome has captured over 4% of the usage share. Over that time Firefox managed around 2%.

And let's not forget that browsers (even Internet Explorer) will continue to get better. This means that there will be less incentive for folks to even bother making a browser switch in the first place.

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