FireFox : What Went Wrong ?

To put the above question into context we need to take a small walk down memory lane. Back in the day, IE was the only browser around and then from Netscape's ashes rose Firefox, one of the most successful open source projects in history.

It was a browser that was more secure, customizable, but more importantly made by geeks, for geeks. Mozilla's Firefox hasn't looked back since then, becoming the browser of choice for anyone who had a little more sense than a featherbrained emu. Internet Explorer's world domination came to a grinding halt and it started losing market share rapidly.

Cut to today and you have a very different scenario. Firefox faces competition on many different fronts. Google's Chrome has come a long way since its initial buggy, crashy days. Opera, which was side-lined for a long time, is back with a bang. IE 9 is supposed to be more secure and most reports around suggest "it's not bad". Then there's Safari; that's it, it's just there. And all of them have added extension support which for a long time was Firefox's biggest USP. If you've noticed all of these competitors have slowly but surely broken down each of Firefox's prime features - personalization, performance, and security.

The reason we noticed something was wrong was because out of all machines operating in the Digit office right now, only one was running Firefox as the default browser. With many of the members of Team Digit being self-confessed fan boys at one point or the other, this was a bit unnerving. Other than that we've had our ear to the ground and caught murmurs of preference slowly but surely shifting away from Firefox. We decided to check up on some statistics to corroborate our hunch. According to sources such as Net Market-Share, Firefox has been on a steady decline - from a global share of 24.43 per cent in Jan 2010 to now 22.83 per cent in October. Two percentage points may not seem like much, but it translates into a huge actual drop. This is even more glaring when contrasted with Chrome which has been steadily on the rise - nearly doubling its market share in the same period (from 4.63 per cent to 8.50 per cent). On a side note, we'd like to mention unknown but wildcard entities like RockMelt - the new 'social' browser - are also entering the fray. But what about India you may ask? The Indian market is a little slower to react to global trends. The story isn't drastically different. According to StatCounter the market share for Firefox has gone from 32.98 per cent in October 09 to 33.12 per cent in Oct 2010. At the same time IE declined by about 10 per cent, and Chrome gained almost the same. What this could possibly mean is that IE's loss converted straight to Chrome. Could this have some-thing to do with Google placing a full page print ad in India's most widely read daily? And what has caused this small but steady erosion from Firefox to other browsers?

From a usability standpoint, we decided to list out few of the things that go against Firefox in the current scenario.


We did a "hunt for the fastest browser on earth" some time back on ( that ran contenders through a series of tests and benchmarks including Acid 3, Dromaeo, SunSpider, V8, CSS Selector, PeaceKeeper, JSNES Rendering, real world tests on JavaScript heavy web sites such as Google Wave, Threadsy and even a bit of Nuclear radiation for good measure. The result read some-thing like this "Opera gives us a clue to how much improvement is possible in a browser's speed through native code generation. Opera 1O.50's claim for being the 'fastest' is not very far from the truth. If you go by numbers though, Chrome won - whether the stable version or the developer version, Google Chrome beats its competitors more often than not, and is the fastest browser out there" - as per the date of the test, of course.


Everyone's got them now! And to be honest the Chrome community is just as vibrant. The extension web site for Chrome has a more social feel to it. There's categorization, a rating system, commenting and we wouldn't be wrong if we said most Firefox ad dons/ extensions have now been ported to Chrome. Opera extensions are also growing steadily too. The best part about Chrome extensions is that they don't need a restart to install, and have the ability to pop out on the same screen.

Startup time

A minor but insanely prickly problem with Firefox. Historically.


This of course does not have anything to do with actual usability but Firefox is no longer considered by many to be the light, renegade alternative that it once was. Besides, is Webkit now increasingly becoming the layout engine of choice? Flock, the social browser which started off as browser variant based on Firefox, has now moved to Chromium.

At this point we decided to ask the Mozilla Foundation some difficult questions. Amongst these were also things like specific plans for India, whether they have plans to go back to the drawing board with respect to the code, and plans regarding Ad Spends and OEM tie ups. The response we got was enlightening to some extent, but in parts read like boilerplate marketing spiel. You can find excerpts of this in the part below. And we kid you not regarding the spokesperson’s title - it's actually "Storyteller". This wouldn't surprise you once you go through the responses.

So we decided to do some digging and find out what the techie community is saying. On, the big daddy question-answer knowledge engines, we found an interesting discussion started by a head on question: "Will Firefox have double-digit market share in 3 to 5 years?" The responses were interesting enough, but more so because of who the respondents were. John Lilly who at the time of answering the question was the outgoing CEO of Mozilla as expected said ''I'm confident that it will. Product is getting better all the time, and especially with 4.0 approaching in the fall," In this same question answer thread, one of the founders of Firefox, Blake Ross is reported to have answered negatively. (as reported on TechCrunch and ZDnet) ''I'm pretty skeptical. I think the Mozilla Organization has gradually reverted back to its old ways of being too timid, passive and consensus driven to release breakthrough products quickly," he had said. We couldn't find the answer on the Quora page has perhaps since been removed from there.

Another interesting response on Quora was from Chris Bader the co-founder of Treehouse, an iPhone based photo sharing service. He said, "It would take a major swivel for Firefox to actually continue to grow, as Blake says, they have become passive. From a usability standpoint, Firefox has become a slow memory hog and I find myself using Chrome now"

Well, to conclude, from what Asa Dotzler from Mozilla said to us, and John Lilly wrote on Quora, much of their hopes are resting on Firefox 4.

Q&A with Mozilla

Asa Dotzler, Mozilla's Spokesmodel and Storyteller

Mozilla's mission is to promote choice and participation on the Web, not gain market share, By those measures, this year has been an amazing success for Mozilla, as we continue to grow and innovate, Firefox 4 (which is currently in the beta cycle) has awesome new features like Panorama, hardware accelerated browsing, and Firefox Sync for end-users; the new Jetpack add-ons API, WebGL, Open Audio and Video, CSS3, HTML5, and more, for designers and developers; and new security features like Content Security Policies and HTTP Strict Transport-Security that will help make the Web safer for everyone.

We will continue to improve Firefox's performance, Competitive pressure on performance and stability is good for everyone and we welcome it.

Our hardware acceleration and Jagermonkey JavaScript engine and bring a new level of performance to the Web for users and developers, Through Mozilla Labs, we will continue to innovate and experiment with great new features like awesome one-click social sharing such as Mozilla Labs's Fl experiment. We'll ensure that Firefox's Add-on ecosystem stays ahead of the pack with the deepest and most powerful extension platform, as well as fast and easy extension creation with Jetpack APIs, Through projects like Mozilla's Open Web App ecosystem proposal, we'll make sure that everyone, not just Mozilla users, will have a better Web application experience.

We will continue to make Firefox available on more platforms and in more languages and we will continue to build an enthusiastic community of supporters who, by word of mouth, will spread Firefox to new markets and new users, We have reached 400 million end users across 80 languages without traditional advertising methods.

We've stepped into services in a big way with features like Firefox Sync, And we've built an amazing new version of desktop Firefox that's going to set a new bar for performance, features and fun, We've added tens of millions of new users this year and with the streamlined and blazing fast new Firefox 4 we hope to see that that growth continue to accelerate.

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