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


We also came on the scene about the same time as US-CERT advised people to use another browser as Microsoft didn't have a workaround for a couple of the major bugs affecting them.

This all came together in a critical mass, so we got to the first five percent pretty quickly. That had an effect — as we grew so quickly it got us a bunch more visibility. When Microsoft dropped from 98 to 95 percent, people looked up. Our early success spread more success.

Last year the Mozilla Foundation said it wanted to reach 10 percent by the end of 2005. You appear to have reached this now, so what is your next target?
I don't have any targets, my goals are to improve the product in every release and to expand the audience we're offering it to.

There's a limit to the audience we're targeting now — we're only targeting people who find and install software and a lot of people don't do that. My guess is that far fewer than half of the people on the Web will download a browser.

The next step is about reaching people that won't download software, through CDs, and deals with ISPs and OEMs. For example, [US-based ISP] Speakeasy is bundling Firefox with its set-up CD and one of Australia's big OEMs [Acer] is shipping Firefox.

Every time a popular computer magazine is shipping a CD, we need to be talking to them. We have people at SpreadFirefox who are in contact with CD producers and know when they're planning their next CD. We are also approaching ISPs, and have to approach OEMs to persuade them to pre-install Firefox.

We ought to target all places where we can get free distribution, but some things are going to cost us — if we want to be on desktop of one of top five OEMs, we will probably have to pay them.

Opera recently said it is unfair that it is criticised for putting ads in its browser, as they "don't have a rich sugar daddy like the Mozilla Foundation." What is your response to this comment?
When you don't have to worry about monetising the browser, you can think about user. As we're a non-profit, our goal is merely to sustain ourselves. I agree that Opera need to be profitable, but to do that they have had to make their user experience a little bit worse. Luckily, we can just focus on being sustainable.

We won't make an agreement with any company that negatively impacts our users. We won't do something that compromises our users' experience for money. We say no to more deals than you can possibly imagine — we say no to almost everyone.

Instead, we try to find ways to take what we're already doing and monetise that. Luckily, we have a good enough product that we don't have to do anything crazy to keep it going. Firefox has a lot of buzz, so people want to connect their products or services to it.

Firefox has been praised for being more secure than IE, but some say that the extension model introduces security risks. Do you agree with this? Why have you chosen this model?
I'm not terribly concerned about extension security or performance. Most extension developers host their code at Mozdev and the bad ones get weeded out quite quickly. It's unlikely that a malicious extension will get popular as you can view the source of extensions. You can't view IE's source.

Extensions are a compromise between ease of use for the people who want something that works out of box and those people who want control over the browser. The latter is an extreme minority, but an important group.

Topic: Apps

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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?
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • If 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.