Firefox: Doing it for love

Firefox: Doing it for love

Summary: Asa Dotzler, the community co-ordinator for the Mozilla Foundation, reflects on how grassroots marketing has spurred the growth of Firefox, and how a bunch of developers managed to create such enduring loyalty in their product

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TOPICS: Apps
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The Mozilla Foundation is envied throughout the software world for the buzz it has created around the Firefox browser. The media interest, which started primarily among technology blogs, quickly spread to the technology press and even the national press.

There are not many software products that can splash a flattering quote from financial heavyweight the Wall Street Journal on the front page of their Web site, yet the home page of the Mozilla Foundation proudly quotes a WSJ article entitled, "Security, cool features of Firefox Web browser beat Microsoft's IE".

Love of Firefox among mainstream press is not confined to the US; a quick search on Google reveals that the Web sites of the BBC, The Times and The Guardian have referred to Firefox 274, 147 and 190 times respectively.

Asa Dotzler is one of the main Mozilla employees responsible for this PR success. He coordinates over 100,000 marketing volunteers who have signed up to the SpreadFirefox Web site and was one of the original brains behind many of the high-profile advertising campaigns.

ZDNet UK spoke to Dotzler about the rise of Firefox in the enterprise, future marketing campaigns and how the browser managed to grow its user base so fast.

Although Firefox has undoubtedly been successful among consumers, we rarely hear of companies doing wide-scale migrations from IE. How do you think you're doing in enterprises, and what are you doing to change that?
If you look at all of statistics they average out to us being about 10 percent of the Web. There are estimated to be about 1 billion Web users, which means there are about 100 million Firefox users out there. It has only been downloaded about 65 million times, so the other users are people who got it some other way. The most likely place they are likely to have got it from is corporate deployments.

The early adopters of Firefox includes a lot of people in IT departments. Those are the people you want to have, as they will be the ones who can convince their management to migrate [the company] to Firefox.

We have high hopes that we'll do better and better in that space with Windows 2000 users. If users don't upgrade to Windows XP they won't get IE 7, but 50 percent of businesses are still using Windows 2000.

We're excited about Microsoft launching IE 7 — it will remind a lot of people that if they want better features they have to spend hundreds of dollars upgrading. Even if we stopped supporting Windows 98, a company can support [Firefox on Windows 98] themselves as it is open source. This is one of the advantages of open source — you can avoid the forced update cycle.

As we improve our tools for corporate deployments and people feel they're being left behind on Windows 2000, hopefully we'll see a real domino effect.

Firefox has become famous for its massive community marketing campaigns — the New York Times advert, the SpreadFirefox Web site. What have you got planned next?
The gimmicky projects, like the New York Times ad, these things we'll see less of. We'll be more focused on the grunt work of marketing. You can only get people covering you as a novel effort when you're novel. Now 10 other people are doing copies of SpreadFirefox, such as SpreadIE.com and SpreadOpera.com. We're not novel any more so don't expect that kind of coverage.

What are you doing to continue spreading Firefox though?
People are doing lots of crazy and wacky stunts to spread Firefox, like knitting a Firefox hat, or painting their face and going to a football match. An 11 year old kid wrote to us saying he wanted a Firefox tattoo, but his mum wouldn't let him so he did a temporary tattoo. One of most amazing stunts was done by the Linux user group at Oregon State University — they traced out a Firefox logo on the pavement at their college campus. That hit the local papers and the college paper.

Topic: Apps

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4 comments
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  • I really hope they don't remove any features. Honestly it's fine as it is. Better control over cookies and javascript usage per website would be great.

    If you keep taking away features you'll end up with lynx. Why not just upgrade to that then?
    anonymous
  • Telling is the comment that Microsoft had disbanded their IE team at a time when users were having a lot of trouble using IE due to spyware and popups.

    That is surely an excellent example of why allowing a Microsoft monopoly is a really bad idea, and disproves Microsoft's assertion that given a monopoly they'll continue to innovate (and from that, software patents and similar are a good idea).

    Thinking they had a monopoly on the web browser they disbanded their IE team - dispite the obvious need for more innovation.
    anonymous
  • For Firefox to outpace IE in the corporate environment, you'd need a development environment as good as Visual Studio.NET (since Visual Studio.NET doesn't do a good job of supporting Firefox).
    anonymous
  • If VisualStudio.net was so bloody good, it would be capable of supporting some itsy bitsy little thing called WEB STANDARDS so that everyone on the planet could have equal access to what it creates. Obviously it's a flawed, sub-standard product.
    anonymous