Firefox 4 launch presages tougher browser battle for Mozilla

The release this week of Firefox 4 RC1 and imminent delivery of Firefox 4 presage a tougher battle for the No 2 player as IE and Chrome close in, squeeze browser share from Mozilla
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor

The completion of Firefox 4 Release Candidate 1 yesterday -- on March 9, as advertised --  sets the stage for a big battle of the browsers in 2011.

RC1, posted late yesterday, is available on Windows, Macintosh and Linux, and its stability and performance metrics suggest that the final Firefox 4 code should ship sometime this month.

With Chrome 10 and Internet Explorer 9 on tap, it will be an interesting year.

Firefox remains the No 2 browser behind only Microsoft Internet Explorer with more than 21 percent share, but it's no secret that the other open source browser -- Google's Chrome -- continues to gain sizable market share with each quarter. Chrome now has almost 11 percent share of the market.

And, according to market tracker Net Applications, Microsoft's Internet Explorer continues to chip away at Firefox as browser usage increases in China. In January, Net Applications shows IE's share at 56 percent, Firefox at 22.75 and Chrome breaking the double-digit milestone with 10.7 percent share.

Net Applications' take a month later, in its February 2011 report, shows a 1 percent drop in Firefox usage worldwide, to 21.74 percent, and a .77 percent gain for IE to 56.77 percent. Chrome gained but only by .23 percent.

"With the new C.I.A. numbers factored in, Firefox loses global share since many of the countries it is most popular in (Western European, in particular) now have a lower percentage of global internet users. Internet Explorer gains as browser usage shifts to countries with higher percentages of Internet Explorer users."

So, what does this mean? Is Firefox caught between a rock and a hard place and destined to die?

No. What is shows is a vibrant, competitive and growing marketplace, due primarily to the rise and growth of two open source browsers.

Not too long ago, Microsoft's Internet Explorer virtually owned the browser market. Now, the browser market is a viable three-way race with lots of other specialized browsers - several of them open source -- carving out their own niches.

Open source has leveled the playing field for Internet software and paved the way for innovation. Yet, there's no doubt that Firefox is under pressure and need to continue to innovate, attract more developers and users globally and stem losses in market share.

Financially, Mozilla claims to be strong. In its financial report posted in November, Mozilla chief Mitchell Baker spoke to increasing revenues and competition as positives.

"The browser world is now intensely competitive and products are improving constantly. Firefox continues to be at the forefront of technology and user experience. Firefox brings a great product and Mozilla's vision of openness and empowerment directly to more than 400 million people in more than 80 languages. We also spur these developments indirectly by serving as an honest broker showing what Internet life can be, and encouraging others to build products that incorporate openness and individual control. This is an immense success for Mozilla," she wrote, adding that keeping the Internet open was one of the primary missions of Mozilla -- not world dominance.

For the calendar year 2009, Mozilla's consolidated reported revenues were $104 million, up 34 percent from 2008 reported revenues of $78 million in the year before, Mozilla noted.

Most of Firefox's revenues come from search engine revenue. Some of it comes from financial support of corporations,  namely Google, whose continued funding is guaranteed through 2011.

It will be an important year for Mozilla and I'd look for the organization to make a big push for additional corporate funding, more marketing and increased global expansion, especially in Asia.

Rising out of the ashes of Netscape in 1998, Mozilla has accomplished more with Firefox than many anticipated and remains the only non-profit, open source vendor in the game. That's an advantage worth selling.

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