Now eight years old, Firefox is struggling in the market. Is this the beginning of the end for the browser?
Can a bunch of people who do not care about money create a browser that people would love to use? Not a lot of people thought that would happen back in 2004, but in the past 8 years Mozilla made a strong statement with Firefox, which is currently used by around 20 per cent of Internet junkies world over. However, as the browser wars shift to mobile phones, Mozilla is left grasping at straws.
Though the team working on the browser is committed as always to provide the best browsing experience, the demands and expectations from a browser has changed drastically from what it was in 2004. In 2012, Firefox is like a teenager who used to be a smart kid but is unsure about what it wants to be when it grows up. Should it just continue to be a browser and keep competing in a three horse race with Google and Internet Explorer or should it disrupt the market and become an operating system in itself?
As of now the strategy seems to be as clinical as a shotgun, with the organisation continuing to focus on no one thing. On one hand they are building browsers for Android, Windows 8, Linux and OSx while also working on a separate Firefox OS. The Firefox OS is built on Linux kernel much like Chrome OS, except it’s made specifically with smartphones in mind. The company also claims that the OS is the first true open source mobile OS.
As promising as that idea sounds, the challenge ahead is more difficult that sending rover to Mars. Microsoft has been bleeding dollars for the past year and has barely made a dent in the mobile market. The marketshare of mobile phones-running Windows Operating System is still in a single digital and in such an environment does Firefox stand a chance?
In a blog post announcing its 8th birthday the company states, “We’re proud to say that our mission hasn’t changed, but the Web has” and there lies the biggest problem. The world is no longer hurting the absence of an open source alternative.
There is no one force that is crushing the users and in such a market Mozilla’s goal of launching a mobile OS seems like a waste of money. Don’t take my word for it, take a look at some of the big companies that launched their own mobile operating systems and shut it down soon enough. HP bought Palm and started working on WebOS, again, based on Linux kernel again and decided to shut down the project after the devices failed to make a mark. Samsung on the other hand has Bada OS, which continues to exist, barely so, and the number of Bada devices the company sells is minuscule in comparison to the ones running Android.
Even if Mozilla decided to leave the operating system and concentrate on building browsers for mobile devices it faces a stiff challenge. Mozilla uses a layout engine called Gecko, while most popular mobile browsers as of now — ranging from Safari to Chrome — use WebKit. A layout engine is that part of the browser that interprets the HTML and CSS that makes up a webpage and renders it for your pleasure and most of the mobile websites are designed with WebKit browsers in mind. To the uninitiated, WebKit offers some functionality that does not exist in Gecko yet. So if a user navigates to that web app using Firefox mobile browser, it may not work as intended.
The problem does not end there, Apple does not allow any browser that does not use WebKit to run natively in its mobile devices and tablets. Native apps can use core APIs offered by the operating system and if Mozilla has to create a Firefox for iOS it’ll have to be a half-baked version or a total rewrite, with WebKit at its heart. Neither of those options look good for Mozilla as of now.
Eight years back Mozilla helped start the second browser wars, it needs to be seen what kind of influence and role the company will have in the next couple of years. For in the next two years, the company will either continue to lose market share and be pushed back as an Internet legacy or bounce back and surprise us again. The chances of the latter happening however look rather slim now.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Firefox Daily News : November 19, 2012 | Firefox Daily | November 19, 2012