Dissecting Firefox's retention woes

Summary:Mozilla says 50 percent of the people that download Firefox actually try it. And half of that group actually uses it actively.

Mozilla says 50 percent of the people that download Firefox actually try it. And half of that group actually uses it actively.

That's a major issue--and a surprising admission since the confession renders millions of downloads moot. As a loyal Firefox user that retention rate is just shocking.

Let's examine some of the reasons why:

  • Bundles matter: IE comes with Windows and is prominent on the desktop. You also don't have to do anything to use it with Outlook and other Microsoft apps.
  • People don't switch: As long as IE and Firefox are comparable enough people won't switch browsers.
  • And if people don't switch they sure aren't going to download a new browser or plug-ins as sometimes you have to with Firefox.

It's safe to assume that these folks that download Firefox go back to IE just based on habit and market share.

Mozilla has created a 12 point plan to make Firefox a keeper to passers by (see gallery). Meanwhile, given how Mozilla gets paid this 12 point plan has to be a high priority project. If it could just get some percentage of folks to stick with Firefox it would pad the coffers a good bit. Mozilla is largely supported by search referrals to Google.

Here's Mozilla's 12 point retention plan and my prognosis :

firefox1.png

1. Change Firefox icon to resemble action of getting to the Web. Think an icon like the one on the left.

Will it work? Doubtful. Does anyone really use an icon just because it has a little arrow pointing somewhere?

2. Put the Firefox icon in a better location. Force the issue.

firefox2.png

Will it work? It sure couldn't hurt. Being in the system tray matters.

3. Make default browser settings easier for users. Something like this:

firefox3.png

Will it work? Yes, this would work. But it rubs me the wrong way. Sort of RealNetworks-ish.

4. Big outbound marketing program driving brand recognition.

Will it work? Doubtful. Save the dough.

5. Improve download page and first run pages. Something like this:

firefox4.png

6. Improve support page.

Will it work? It sure can't hurt.

7. Make plug-ins work out of the box.

Will it work? To me, plug-ins are the biggest drawback with Firefox. But overall the current process is pretty easy. But given the churn the plug-ins aren't easy enough.

8. Make add-ons and personas more accessible.

Will it work? Doubtful. These folks that rebound back to IE probably don't care about personas.

9. Make the Web feel more human.

Will it work? As a general rule, I've heard of worse ideas.

10. Improve messaging through communications channels.

Will it work? Personally, I can do without the PR. And it's hard to believe that Mozilla can improve messaging. After all Mozilla just posted these poor stats and gave Microsoft some good ideas for IE, which uses Firefox as the roadmap anyway. Tabs anyone?

11. Stickier start page.

Will it work? Eh.

12. Change Firefox icon image to resemble action of getting to Web.

Will it work. Doubtful. No one is going to think Firefox equals the Web. IE has that vibe cornered.

Topics: Browser, Microsoft

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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