Europe: endless speculation about Firefox

So passes the most full-on Monday of the year so far, during which I have learned:1. Three minutes on the Today programme gets you two emails from posh people (those who still wear ties with expensive suits) who know you a bit and just want to say that they heard you, Three minutes on Radio 5 Live gets you seven emails from journalists of every hue, who've never met you but really want to know more.

So passes the most full-on Monday of the year so far, during which I have learned:

1. Three minutes on the Today programme gets you two emails from posh people (those who still wear ties with expensive suits) who know you a bit and just want to say that they heard you, Three minutes on Radio 5 Live gets you seven emails from journalists of every hue, who've never met you but really want to know more. (Due to what technologists call 'a bit of a cock-up', I didn't get all of those until just now - which is too late. Apologies will follow by return of finger).

Interesting, perhaps, to media strategists and tie marketeers.

2. Trying to go fifteen hours on coffee and a small slice of cherry and walnut oat bar is a very bad idea, especially when juggling important stories needing a lot of focus - which, I think, includes Nokia buying Trolltech. Trying to conduct a sensible conversation about technology and world social equality in the pub afterwards is even worse.

3. In retrospect, there was a little side-story in the QTrax story which I missed completely at the time but which may be more significant in the end than all the sound and fury about who signed up when to what -- QTrax' choice of a Firefox plug-in as the client. Nobody said "Firefox? WTF?".

Had the browser in question been Opera or Safari or any of the many other browsers which have enough users to fill a city or six, WTF would have echoed from the Artex. Firefox is the only mainstream desktop application for Windows that Microsoft doesn't own - and it's managed it so stealthily that nobody's even noticed.

This is underlined by a study from French internet traffic analysts XiTi Monitor, gratefully cadged from Wired. That shows Firefox's presence in Europe continuing to grow. At its most popular, It's nudging 46 percent in the most vulpine market, Finland, and you'd have to be crazier than a Finn to suggest it wasn't going to hit the half-way mark by the end of the year.

How did this happen, and why do some European countries have such a taste for the Fox? Wired's analysis says that this could be due to open source's ability to call on volunteers, meaning that language groups coming well down Microsoft's commercial radar will get their native Firefox long before IE. A hundred people fired by national pride, local necessity and no bureaucracy will get the job done long before an underfunded handful of professional translators make something to be pushed out through the imponderable mechanisms of Microsoft's international release system.

On the face of it, this is plausible. Finnish has absolutely no currency outside its home. With around five million native speakers, it's ten times less interesting to Microsoft than say, Great Britain, which comes equipped with more than sixty million already fluent in American. Thus, Finland has nearly three times the Firefox fan club quotient than UK's paltry 17 percent.

But then, what to make of Ireland and its four millon? They too speak American. (There is another national language, Gaelic, but there's no such Firefox.) Yet Ireland has nearly twice the British penetration of the open source browser - despite there being a Welsh Firefox bundled into the GB count.

Then there's the Netherlands, which has a very distinctive language and four times the Irish population, but which has the lowest Firefox appreciation of the entire European landmass. Under 15 percent: the Dutch themselves think this could be because of a national obsession with copying software, but that gives no advantage to IE.

Compare that with the solid slab of 40-plus percent uptake through the middle of Europe from the Slovenian Adriatic to the Polish Baltic. And contrast that with the 21 percent that the Iberian peninsula shares with Italy.

This denies any simplistic explanation. Whatever's going on needs the attention of linguists, historians, economists, cultural attaches and comparative sociologists with their tentacles driven deep into European soil. Understanding this will not be easy.

Worth doing, though. Writing as someone who's rather grateful for his 42 years of peaceful existence in a Europe previously incapable of holding it together for anything like as long, I'm rather keen to know how that works.

Looking to browser adoption rates for clues may seem oblique to the point of willful obscurity, but it's something objectively measurable that people choose to do in private. Something that reflects a multitude of factors yet remains entirely personal and without censure. Something which shows recognisable cultural patterns, has commercial implications and really should be of interest to anyone planning a cross-European strategy. Anyone up for it?

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All