The NYTimes has done a 3 page story on Mozilla and its most important product, the Firefox browser. This story is notable for 5 reasons. First, it is about browsers and the role that browsers are playing in not just the PC but also smartphone and the broader Cloud Computing marketplaces. It also is a story about the success of Open Source software in a now fiercely competitive software space [browser wars re-engaged]. But just 5 years ago when Firefox debuted, the browser world was in the doldrums as Microsoft dominated with Internet Explorer and a 95% market share.
Second, the story acknowledges the significant role played by Mozilla’s Firefox which has a)become the most popular Open Source software with more than 300 million downloads and b) wrested 25% of the browser market share and growing from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. These are no small feats given that when Mozilla was introduced in 2004, IE had better than 95% marketshare.
Third, the NYTimes finally acknowledges in public what Microsoft had attempted to do with IE – stifle browser innovation by making no functional improvements to the IE browser for over 5 years. Here is the NYTimes phrasing: “In the years after Netscape’s demise, Microsoft essentially stopped improving Internet Explorer, and the browser quickly became vulnerable to security threats, an explosion of pop-up ads and other annoyances. Firefox was faster, safer and blocked pop-ups. It also offered some compelling innovations, like tabs, which allowed users to have multiple pages open inside a single browser window. Word of its virtues spread quickly….” In the IT Trade Press Microsoft’s brazen attack on Web browsers and Web functionality is a taboo topic, rarely if ever mentioned.
Fourth, the story examines the relationship between FireFox and Google – a “patron” of Firefox which has now introduced its own competitive browser, Chrome. Google pays for being the default search engine on installation of Firefox. That agreement goes until 2011 and brings in over 88% of Mozilla’s annual revenues of nearly $75million. So describing the relationship between the two as “rich” given that Google’s Chrome now competes with Firefox – is now an understatement.
Fifth, the story alludes to the importance of add-ons and features to Firefox. This is another example of Mass Self Customization that is beginning to dominate more and more products as they absorb either programmed smarts or novel designs to off there customers easy customizations. Currently, many Firefox users claim loyalty to the product specifically for the breadth of its add-ons and extensions.
The article goes on to describe the key people behind Firefox and the need to adopt to the new competitive marketplace with Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer all vieing for browser market share. But here, the author, Miguel Helft, makes a blunder – “The rise of Firefox unleashed a new wave of innovation and competition among browser makers. Microsoft and Apple, which makes the Safari browser, have narrowed the gap with recent upgrades. That makes it less likely that people will take the trouble to seek out and install Firefox.” This statement implies that Internet Explorer is near to keeping pace with the 4 major browsers – Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera’s Opera. Far from it, the just released IE8 browser trails the top four browser by a wide margin:
Speed of browser: Depending on usage IE is 2 to 8 times slower than other browsers
Size of browser and download: more than 50% bigger and slower than all other browsers
The simple fact of the matter is in browser support, Microsoft has shown a reluctance to give its browser a full set of features and top of the line performance for fear that its PC desktop Windows franchise would be adversely affected. So Mozilla has flourished because Microsoft offered a lot less in its browser – and still does. It took an Open Source operation not vulnerable to Microsoft’s willingness “to cut off all the oxygen” by pricing at zero [as it did against Netscape] to make the browser market a competitive situation again. For a long time Mozilla [and Opera in Europe] did this alone. The signifigance of this story is that it pays tribute to an Open Source David beating the Microsoft Goliath.