Maybe the browser wars really are back.
Bart Decrem, a spokesman for the Mozilla Foundation, told ZDNet UK on Friday that he expects the browser's market share to reach 10 percent by the end of 2005.
"I think we'll get to 10 percent over the next year. We don't have 10 percent of the Web at the moment, but we have the momentum," Decrem said.
He said he is confident of hitting this goal because interest in the browser has been accelerating over the last few months. He said this momentum can be seen in the increasing number of downloads for each version of Firefox: Version 0.8 was downloaded 3.3 million times in four months; 0.9 was downloaded 6.5 million times in three months; and the pre-release version was downloaded 5 million times in just one month.
Read about—and download—the latest release of the Firefox browser at the Mozilla site.
ZDNet UK's own figures show that since the beginning of this year, there has been an increase in the percentage of site visitors using a Mozilla browser. In February, about 9 percent of site visitors were using a Mozilla-based browser; this increased to 19 percent in October. Over the same period, IE use decreased from 88 percent to 79 percent.
CNET News.com and W3Schools.com, a Web development tutorial site, have found similar trends. The move from IE to Firefox is also shown by the fact that half of Firefox downloads are from IE users, according to Decrem.
Mozilla is also attracting increasing interest from non-technical users, who see the perceived speed of their Internet connection rise after switching to Firefox, according to Decrem.
"We get user e-mails saying, 'You're 10 times faster than IE,'" Decrem said. "Benchmark tests show we're about the same speed, but home users who have been accessing the Internet for five years may have 15 or 20 pieces of spyware, which means that every time they access a Web page, the malware could be making an additional 15 connections to the Internet, to log the information it has gathered."
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for security firm Sophos, said spyware and virus writers tend to write malicious software specifically for IE. This can noticeably slow down Internet access for home users who access the Internet via dial-up, though broadband users are unlikely to notice any difference.
"Some spyware hooks specifically into IE," Cluley said. "But other spyware, such as those which log key presses and pass them on to an Internet site, are likely to work on any browser."
Decrem said the recent interest in Firefox validates Netscape's decision to open the source code of its Communicator software in 1998.
"Netscape open-sourced the source code to 'harness the power' of the open-source community," Decrem said. "Now, six years later, this vision is finally coming into fruition. To get over the finish line, we needed a nonprofit organization, which allows us to build new partnerships and do innovative marketing."
Decrem believes that Firefox has been able to exploit public interest in open-source software by providing an easy-to-use, accessible application.
"People have been hearing about open source for 10 years now," Decrem said. "They're intrigued by it and are inspired by the community approach, but they've not been able to experience it for themselves. Firefox is open source and turns up on your doorstep in a way you can consume. It is easy to use with good features."
Decrem said other open-source projects would get more interest from nontechnical users if they took a tougher approach to jettisoning unnecessary functionality.
"At Firefox, we are disciplined about getting rid of features," Decrem said. "It is hard to do that in an open-source development model. You need to take the open-source energy and overlay a product management discipline."
Another open-source project that has accepted the need for streamlining is the Linux desktop GNOME, which, over the last few years, has made changes to simplify the desktop. However, this approach has been unpopular with some GNOME developers, who spun off the GoneME project in July 2004 to develop a version of GNOME for experienced users.
"Current leadership in the GNOME Project have chosen a path that ignores the needs of experienced users," the GoneMe Web site says. "Many features are being added that many established users don't want or need. Some of the best of the old features are being dropped."
Creating a product for the average user also requires strong usability testing, according to Decrem.
"We have spent 10 years watching how people use stuff. For example, tab browsing came from watching people visit the same Web sites every day. Too often, the Linux community lives in a bubble—there is not enough interaction with end users."
Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.