Firefox: Can this Web browser be saved?

Firefox: Can this Web browser be saved?

Summary: Usage is down, users are unhappy, and a former developer has no kind words for the once popular number two Web browser. Can we hope for a Firefox revival?


These are not good days for Firefox.

The real battle  for the number one Web browser in the world these days is between Chrome and Internet Explorer. Firefox, by StatCounter's latest numbers, is a distant third. The latest release of Firefox, had to be patched to deal with a serious  Adobe Flash crash and many users tell me they're not happy with it. Now, adding insult to injury, former Mozilla developer Jono DiCarlo claims Firefox's rapid release schedule has "ruined" Firefox and "killed [its] reputation.”

Firefox started its rapid-release schedule in an attempt to play catch-up with Google Chrome. But, as DiCarlo wrote, “Credit where it's due: the way Google handled Chrome updates was very, very smart. They recognized that updates are one of the hardest things to get right, so they solved that problem first, before releasing version 1. The first release of Chrome was little more than an empty box of a browser, but it was wrapped around an excellent updating system. This let them gradually transform that empty box into a full-featured browser, without the users ever realizing they were getting updates.”

That's true. While I am very aware of Chrome's update, it's my business to keep to track these things. Most users don't notice that Chrome is constantly and quietly updating itself. For example, did you know that Chrome is now up to version 20?

Firefox, on the other hand, wrote DiCarlo “Ironically, by doing rapid releases poorly, we just made Firefox look like an inferior version of Chrome. And by pushing a never-ending stream of updates on people who didn’t want them, we drove a lot of those people to Chrome; exactly what we were trying to prevent.”

The numbers back his claim up. Royal Pingdom, an online uptime monitoring company,  reported in December 2011 that whereas each new version of Chrome quickly reaches 90% of its user base, each new release of Firefox left more and more users behind.

Why? Pingdom wrote that they had heard that many users “had disabled updates in Firefox to keep their browser plugins from breaking. This actually seems to be a pretty major thing to a lot of people. With the rapid release schedule, many extension and plugin creators simply can’t keep up.”

DiCarlo came to a different conclusion. “After years of aspiring to improve software usability, I’ve come to the extremely humbling realization that the single best thing most companies could do to improve usability is to <i>stop changing the UI so often! </i> Let it remain stable long enough for us to learn it and get good at it. There’s no UI better than one you already know, and no UI worse than one you thought you knew but now have to relearn.”

He'll get no argument from me. I believe GNOME's fall from grace as the Linux desktop's favorite interface and what I foresee as Windows's Waterloo—Windows 8's Metro— are both due to breaking users' interface expectations.

Firefox's interfaces changes haven't been that drastic, but whether it's browser plug-ins, too many changes too fast, or the interface itself, Firefox is losing market share. Mozilla, it's parent organization has also been switching priorities recently. After, at best, luke-warm support Mozilla will no longer be supporting its Thunderbird e-mail client and the group is now trying to push ahead with its own mobile operating system, Firefox OS.

Really Mozilla? Does the world really need another mobile operating system? I don't think so. I think Mozilla would be better served by focusing on slowly improving its flagship program, Firefox. While Firefox has been burning through its good will in recent years, I think a dedicated effort to stablize and improve it would regain at least some of its fan base. If they don't well, maybe Firefox can't be saved. And, that would be a pity.

Related Stories:

Firefox OS photo revealed by Mozilla evangelist

Firefox users still waiting for Flash crash fix

Mozilla scraps Thunderbird development - email client 'not a priority' anymore

Google reduces Chrome's reliance on Flash

Firefox 11 review: Firefox has jumped the shark

Topics: Browser, Apps, Enterprise Software, Networking

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  • Firefox in 3rd place for a reason

    The last time I did a complete reinstall of Windows 7, I decided to take Firefox (version 12, I believe) for a spin. I'd been using Chrome happily for some time, but I like to support open-source software, and even though Chrome is based on Chromium, which is open-source, Chrome itself is not. But to my dismay, I found Firefox unbelievably clunky to use. It seemed utterly incapable of loading and rendering an entire web page at one go. Instead, as I scrolled down, the browser would constantly if briefly lock up while it rendered the next section of the page. I stuck with it for several days, visiting a wide variety of web sites, and always having the same experience. Finally, I uninstalled it and returned to Chrome.
    Robert Schiele
    • Cant agree more

      Being web developer, I am regularly launching FFox to test my code, and every time I do I am continually reminded why I stick with Chrome.

      I too love to support open source software, and hate to give them the bad rap, but the proof is in the pudding, and Chrome is king.
    • :S

      funny how you actually describe one of the problems I had with chrome, instead of with firefox :S
      I also can't stand chrome hanging and crashing with my usage patterns
    • Reset Firefox

      Robert, you probably have an old broken profile if you are having such problems. A reinstall does not overwrite your profile.

      To fix:
      -type "about:support" in the url bar
      -click "Reset Firefox"

      Boom! no more firefox problems for you!! ^.^
  • Firefox: Can this Web browser be saved?

    I didn't know it was in trouble. I've been using it for years and its been a wonderful experience. No need to save it as its doing just fine. It contains no spyware like chrome. Besides there is no other browser than can match the personas and extensions that Firefox provides. Because of that I will continue to use it.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Shocking

      I figured you were a loyal IE user.
      John L. Ries
      • I use IE too

        I use IE too.
        Loverock Davidson-
  • Chrome has improved

    I am still a Firefox loyalist, but Google Chrome has lived up to it's hype. Firefox, on the other hand has an extremely buggy 13th version. This is the first version ever to give me any significant problems. I rolled back to the ESR version 10 for work and have been much happier. Firefox still is an awesome browser and my first pick, but they do need to get their stuff together.
    • Agree

      Firefox keeps getting worse and worse while Chrome is improving.

      Version 13 in my opinion is the worst version of firefox since the rapid release debacle started. The tabbed screenshot feature is so lame and unoriginal. Mozilla just copies everything off of Chrome and/or Opera.
    • @MongooseProXC ... if you can't configure a browser

      to operate straight out of the box (..well outta the release channel anyways), then there's either (A) something wrong with your PC, (B) something you've inadvertently done (config-wise) that's slowing FF, (C) PEBKAC / PICNIC or (D) all of the above.

      I don't know this "extremely buggy 13th version" you speak of - and i've been on the release channel for the last two weeks .. and not a crash ... zippy, rapid page loads and all my addons from 3.6.25 'just work'. Or it could just be that in your parallel universe the Space-Time continuum has been warped and it's affecting your perception.

      At any rate, you really need to re-evaluate your thinking and stop declaring your ineptitude and / or oversight as being universally applicable to every other user of FF vX.x.x.

      Thanks for playing.
      • re

        Don't worry, I have submitted around a dozen crash reports to Mozilla for my non-existent problems. They can decide if I am inept or not.
  • Recently switched from FF to IE9

    And well, I love it... last IE I used was 6.0 .. so when I started browsing in 9.. it all felt so smooth, fast loads.. tried chrome for a little while but figured.. with my default browser (IE9) so good.. why would I want to install a 3rd party to add to my workload...
  • Firefox is and remains excellent, Chrome on the other hand crashes a lot

    Firefox is and remains excellent, Chrome on the other hand crashes a lot.

    It doesn't need saving, there's nowt wrong with it. Besides Opera is still here, despite it's continual poor user base.

    Firefox is a very mature product, Chrome on the other hand has a long way to go to match Firefox's stability and configurability. Why do all extensions have to be stuck top right corner?

    No the world doesn't need Firefox OS but it does need Firefox. Chrome is winning a lot to do with Google's massive marketing campaign, something Mozilla cannot match. Don't get me wrong it is slick, when it works, pity it's so unstable (multiple pc's for me).
    • Wrong!

      You must be using a really old version of Chrome or a really slow PC.

      Firefox is more choppy and laggy than Chrome.
      • actually

        there must be something wrong with your pc, since on mine, firefox works great too..
        far better than chrome that is.
      • @foeNOTreal .. another absolutist twit

        Since when do you speak for everyone? He's entitled to give his opinion - based on his anecdotal experiences - just as you are. But instead, you're shooting him down for his take and personal experiences.

        By all means love Chrome and hate FF .. but that would be your opinion / preference ... don't force it down anyone elses throat though.

        I'm afraid you've earned a flagging just for that.

        Have a nice day.
        • On, you mean

          just like you did to @MongooseProXC in another post?
          Arthur Whitehouse
      • what laggy ?

        I have been using Firefox since its version 3 or something like that. Never did I feel it was "laggy" or "choppy", After FF11, the launch time which has been main drawback has been eliminated. It still works great, with a stock interface which both attends a new user as well as experienced one, unlike chrome which needs addons to look like it can offer something
    • RE: Same as him

      1/2 year ago, a year firefox was breaking a lot. Now it's zippy. Chrome is freezing on occasion with radio buttons, drop down lists and the reply to ZDNet comment. Firefox is having no problems with these ATM
      • RE: Reinstall

        Reinstall ended my issues for now. I see they did do an update yesterday so maybe there was an issue that they patched or maybe with time my issues will come back. If they do I will assume it does not play well with my system and leave.