Yesterday I spent much of the day caught up in Firefox 4 related news. The long-awaited browser was out, and it quickly hit the 1 million downloads mark less than three hours after the official release. It was a big day for Mozilla, and it was generating a lot of Firefox related news.
Then, somewhere between the 1 million and 3 million download mark, a funny thing happened. I saw a story pop up in my RSS feed timeline with an interesting headline: Why Internet Explorer will survive and Firefox won't. Initially I dismissed the article, but the second time it rolled past my eyes I noticed that it had been written by my colleague Ed Bott which came as a surprise to me. It's fair to say that Ed and I disagree on a lot of things, and even when he's disagreeing with me directly, I find Ed's arguments to be pretty well constructed if nothing else. Now, I wouldn't go as far as to suggest that Ed's article yesterday was headline trolling (as Mozilla's Director of Web Platform Chris Blizzard did), but I do think that it does contain errors (as pointed out by Mozilla VP Mike Shaver) and that it hilariously misses a key point (as noted by Mozilla's Director of Firefox Mike Beltzner).
The reason that leads Ed to believe that Internet Explorer will survive and Firefox won't (a point he doesn't get to until the second to last paragraph in his post) is web apps.
So where does that leave Firefox? It doesn’t have an app ecosystem or a loyal core of developers. Extensions? Those were worth bragging about in 2005, but in 2012 the story is apps. Businesses and consumers will want to use the same browser that powers their installed apps. In the PC space, that means Google or Microsoft. It doesn’t leave room for a third player.
So web apps are on the way.
But I'm not convinced that web apps are all that critical to the survival of Firefox. Web apps is only a small part of what people want from a browser. Speed, security, stability and ease of use are also important.
Something else that is also important to people is access to the latest web browser. Microsoft has decided that those running XP will not have access to Internet Explorer 9 and instead are stuck with IE8, or will have to look to other browsers ... Opera, Safari, Chrome or Firefox.
By preventing XP users from having access to the latest Internet Explorer, Microsoft is actually pushing users to other browser ... including Firefox. This means that no matter how good IE9 is, if XP users want a better browsing experience, they will have to look elsewhere. Some 55% of web browsing of web browsing is done using Windows XP, so that means that Microsoft has left an enormous number of users out in the cold. While Firefox usage stats have stagnated over the past year at around the 22% mark, but it should be remember that this still translates into some 400 million users. I expect that excluding XP users from Internet Explorer 9 will benefit Firefox and the other browser players.
Just as there's room for more than two players in on the desktop or on mobile devices, there's room for more than two players when it comes to browsers.
Firefox isn't going anywhere.