Why is Firefox’s decline inevitable?

Author: FadinGeek

Translator丨Mingzhishan

Planning丨Yan Yuanyuan

People who use Chrome today either used Firefox before, or they’re too young to know what Firefox is…at least according to the statistics.

Firefox used to be a legend, one of the most dominant software. In my opinion, it takes everything for granted. Now, however, I’m less optimistic about this product.

It’s a long roller coaster ride down the rabbit hole and then…

Part 1: Rise

hardships

It all started with a piece of software called Netscape Navigator, which was developed by a group of people and later acquired by a company called AOL. It was the first web browser ever, and it became famous because no one had seen software like this before. Not long after, Internet Explorer was released, and Firefox didn’t really gain traction because it was considered a “third-party app” for Windows. As a result, Netscape’s market share fell from 92% to around 15%.

In the past, IE was the most commonly used web browser, and it was preinstalled on Windows, making it easy to use and no hassle at all.

It was at this time that Netscape decided to make the boldest decision in its history: open source.

The same thing doesn’t seem so bold now, because there are so many open source applications. But the situation at the time was very different, and there were very few open source applications at that time.

On the same day, Netscape developer Jamie Zawinski registered the Mozilla trademark as a codename for a version of Netscape. The name is a combination of Mozake and Godzilla.

Their original goal was to make Mozilla a suite of apps that would provide a good web browsing and communication experience, but since they open sourced everything, it wasn’t a very ideal solution, and it wasn’t profitable.

In October 1998, the Mozilla team decided to end everything and build a native framework-based cross-platform browser from the ground up. They have previously developed the gecko kernel engine, which is a good foundation for this.

In 1998, they released a preview version. Although it is very simple and ordinary, people still cast appreciative eyes and look forward to the official release. Unfortunately, the release schedule was severely delayed, as Mozilla planned to add some extra packages at the last minute.

Finally, in June 2002, they released the first version of the Pheonix browser. It’s called Pheonix because of some complicated historical issues.

rename

When everything was going well, AOL decided to drop support for the browser. Fortunately, Mozilla formed its own foundation at this time, the Mozilla Foundation, which eventually replaced AOL under the leadership of Dave Hyatt, Joe Hewitt, and Blake Ross.

As a result, the Pheonix browser was reborn from the ashes. It was then threatened by a tech company called Pheonix, because the trademark was similar to theirs, and the browser was renamed Firebird.

Over time, the browser also began to officially support macOS, and was eventually renamed Firefox because the community hated the browser’s name.

Part II: Radical

Firefox was the first web browser to popularize the concept of “tabs”. It also implements other ideas like pop-up blocking (now ad blocking), security and privacy (optional system tracking), blocking potentially unwanted trackers, and more. It was also the first browser to use an OS-independent download manager.

Guinness World Records

The development team hyped the community for the next version, Firefox 3.0, and announced an exact release date.

On June 17, 2008, Firefox 3.0 was released on schedule and set a Guinness World Record for the most indie downloads in a day, with around 8 million downloads in 24 hours, which seemed almost unparalleled at the time.

innovation

It is constantly adding new features that are quite unique and different from other competitors.

In 2010, Firefox’s market share peaked at 34%. This is a huge achievement, after all, it was only 5% in 2005, and its main competitor is IE.

Part 3: Downhill

Mozilla has achieved these achievements mainly because it is no longer seen as a “third-party app” and more as a better browser extension than IE.

But things change when you have more than one such software, and some are backed by more popular companies.

At the time, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was not interested in the Web market, but Larry Page decided to poach some developers directly from Mozilla to develop a better version of Firefox, and the CEO had to change his mind. And so, Chrome began its journey.

struggle

It was around this time that the pace of Firefox’s development and the pattern of adding new features changed. Firefox has become just trying to keep up with Google Chrome, rather than really implementing its own ideas like it used to. Firefox has launched a mobile version that almost completely mimics Chrome in functionality. This instead elevates Chrome’s status, because Chrome adds features that only benefit itself. For example, the mobile version of Chrome integrates well with Android and is the default browser for Android because both Android and Chrome are owned by Google.

compete

As Google made Chrome the default browser for Android, Chrome’s market share and popularity began to soar. On the other hand, Firefox always seems to be imitating Chrome, rather than adding its own unique features, use cases and implementing different marketing strategies.

obstacle

The Firefox team then launched its own operating system in a market already occupied by established rivals Google and Microsoft. They started the Firefox OS development program.

The plan fell apart, mainly because there was really no reason for people to use it, because most phones had Android pre-installed, no one would have Firefox OS installed, and it not only lacked software support, but also had no unique selling point. This not only slowed down the development of Firefox OS, but also increased complaints and criticism from the community.

Mozilla originally had a bigger advantage over Google, as 34% of people used and trusted Firefox. They just didn’t get users back from Chrome in time.

The above sentence is what I said, let’s hear what the CEO of Firefox himself has to say:

Firefox was out of touch with the market and didn’t make what people really wanted. Many die-hard Firefox fans are now Chrome users.

Part Four: It’s Too Late

In 2017, Mozilla released a new version codenamed “Photon” (version 57), which put more effort into almost everything, the logo and UI were redesigned to be more modern, and new rendering was used Engine, better animation, better user experience…

It also released many more useful new features, mainly for its real users (unlike Firefox OS), such as Clockwise calendar plugin, containers, tracker blocking, advanced VPN server, better appearance and a browser theme shop.

But it was all too late. In the beginning, Firefox had an advantage because most computer users were techies who knew how to tinker with software and weren’t as immersed in titty fun as today’s TikTok users…if you know what I’m talking about.

People prefer long-term, less bloated apps. Why install another browser if Android already has Chrome installed by default? Since you’re already using Chrome on Android, why not use it on your computer? When other browsers such as Opera and Vivaldi started working hard to attract their users, such as Opera GX offering users a free mini VPN – in Firefox for a fee, the game changed again.

Finally, the Brave browser appeared, which targeted a similar user base to Firefox, but offered better features and had a better marketing strategy, leading to a further decline in Firefox users.

everything is deserved

The graph above is the salaries of Firefox executives and the number of Firefox users churn each year… The figures in the graph are not exaggerated.

While I shouldn’t mention individual salaries, the “Mozilla team” of the past is now a large company and it’s not as invested as it needs to be. Instead of continuing to focus on users, introducing new ideas, and keeping pace with the times, they are chasing Google and competing for users on the Android and Windows platforms. Right now the only dominant platform for Firefox is Linux, and it seems the community is working hard to give them that opportunity, but even on this platform browsers like Brave and Vivaldi have become the go-to choice for some Linux distributions like FerenOS.

I don’t want to lie, they have really started working on it over the past few years. But it turned out that it was too late, they should have done it when they had an advantage over Chrome.

in conclusion

Firefox’s presence continues to be diminished. It released its 100th version in anticipation that people would try it because of the version number, but they didn’t make anything that caught the eye of the average user.

Personally I hope Firefox will be successful. After all, it’s not necessarily a good thing that Chrome is eating such a huge market share, let alone its open source version – Chrome has also spawned many forks (like Brave).

If ever there was an open source browser that wasn’t based on Chromium and could regain some traction and dominance, it would be Firefox. I hope it understands where it is.

The text and pictures in this article are from InfoQ

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This article is reprinted from https://www.techug.com/post/why-is-the-decline-of-firefox-inevitablede95f4e3ec41bd4e07c5/
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