Firefox 3.5: Well positioned as mid-sized browser gorilla

Mozilla has launched its latest browser, Firefox 3.5, and at first glance it appears to be an improvement with solid reviews.

Mozilla has launched its latest browser, Firefox 3.5, and at first glance it appears to be an improvement with solid reviews. It certainly is speedier, but the broader question is whether the Firefox can adjust as a 300 pound gorilla.

CNet News' Stephen Shankland raises the question. Clearly, Firefox isn't the 800 pound browser gorilla. That's still Internet Explorer. But Firefox now has to compete with smaller rivals such as Google Chrome, Opera and Apple's Safari browser. Could Firefox get squeezed from above and below?

Shankland recaps:

Firefox has gained about 3 percentage points to 22.5 percent in market share, according to Net Applications' statistics since July 2008, and Firefox backer Mozilla doubtless hopes for more gains with Tuesday's release of Firefox 3.5. But Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome each gained 2 percentage points, to 8.4 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively, indicating a growing appetite for alternatives to Internet Explorer that's not completely met by Firefox. Opera stayed flat at about 0.7 percent.

His point: Firefox can't use the us vs. IE argument anymore. The equation is more complicated today.

That's true, but Firefox isn't approaching any awkward stage. In fact, Firefox is in a strong position. Developers have to program for Firefox due to market share, the browser has a big community behind it and Mozilla has an interesting pipeline. Meanwhile, you can cross out two of those competitors below Firefox. Security concerns keep me away from Safari---unless on an iPhone---and Opera hasn't won me over. Opera's browser is fine, but I see no need to be in a club that has 0.7 percent market share.

If you simplify the browser equation you wind up with Firefox and Chrome ultimately targeting IE.

So is life going to be more difficult for the Firefox team? Perhaps, but not likely. For instance, Firefox isn't the scrappy underdog anymore, but it's still a non-profit (sort of) battling a software giant. From below, Google is a threat.

But Firefox 3.5 does enough to fend off Chrome and adds a bevy of new features that can carry the ball forward. Among the key features:

  • HTML5 video and audio elements;
  • Faster performance with the TraceMonkey JavaScript engine;
  • Location aware browsing;
  • And a bevy of other goodies.

And Firefox's biggest asset may be its user base. Mozilla has consistently won folks over and unless it royally screws up users like me may dabble with other browsers but will ultimately stay loyal.