There has been a lot of talk about the dirge sounding for the Firefox browser. With a marked nosedive in market share (roughly 15%), the one-time king of the browse war has now fallen into third place (behind Internet Explorer and Chrome). As most pundits are scratching their heads, I'm fairly certain that there's a clear reason for this change:
The 15% market share applies only to desktop browsers. Once you move to mobile... all bets are off. But why? What has shifted to cause Firefox to drop so sharply? Is it a bad product? Honestly, to the majority of users (I'm talking "average user" here), a browser is a browser is a browser. The biggest difference to the average user is the use of "Favorites" over "Bookmarks." Since most users wouldn't even know Firefox from Internet Explorer, how could this change have happened?
Again, I say... Google.
Actually, I should be more specific and say Chrome -- or even better, Chrome OS and Android.
From November 2013 to the end of the year, a reported 21% of all laptops sold were Chromebooks. Worldwide, Android takes nearly 81% of the mobile market share. That's a LOT of Google-based browsers out there. I don't think it's a huge leap of logic to assume a vast percentage of those users would have been, otherwise, using Firefox.
Let me present myself a case in point. For the longest time, I was a devout Firefox user. But then I discovered a few of the Chrome apps/extensions (such as Tweetdeck) and added Chrome to my Linux desktop. Then I adopted a Chromebook as a laptop. Since I really only do two things on a laptop (write and browse), it made perfect sense. Add to this the fact that my smartphone platform has been Android for what seems like forever, plus the mobile version of Firefox is dreadful, and you have the makings for a typical migration from Firefox to Chrome.
Let's be honest -- as long as the browser gets the job done, it doesn't matter which browser you use.
- Unless you're on a Chromebook
- Or on Android
- Or you depend on Google Apps
You can see the pattern here, right? It's like third-party politics in the United States. Many people don't vote for third parties because it takes away votes from the party they once championed. In this case -- every person using Chrome is one less person using Firefox. Why?
Caution: generalization coming...
Most people who use Internet Explorer simply don't know that the product they're using is inferior to every other product of its kind (either that or they depend on a site that was written ONLY for IE). So, there's little to no chance they'll jump ship to either Firefox or Chrome.
So, what is Mozilla to do? Well, they're busy focusing on the Firefox OS, which is akin to Ubuntu focusing on the Ubuntu Phone -- it's detracting from what they've always done really well in exchange for jumping into a ring with two of the heaviest hitters in the history of the game -- Android and iOS.
And then there's that advertising deal with Google that's about to expire. The majority of Mozilla's income is from that deal, and Google has less reason to continue on with that search agreement. Google no longer needs the advertising real estate from a browser suffering from a possible slow death. Should Google pull this, Mozilla will have to pull off a miracle to stay in the fight.
However, there's good news. You can't forget that Firefox is an open-source browser. That means, even if Firefox were to die, another batch of forks would appear. So, even if Google Chrome were to knock Firefox out of the ring, more contenders will appear to take up the gloves. But even a horde of forks are not likely to pull Firefox from the slow Chrome burn. Google isn't going anywhere but up. As Chromebooks and Android continue to take over the mobile planet (and users become less tethered to their desks), Firefox will continue to suffer.
Firefox is still a quality product. But like Internet Explorer, it's facing a foe that's stronger, faster, and more agile. That new opponent is poised to take over nearly everything it touches. Fortunately (for users, not the competition), that new foe offers a stellar product on every platform (Linux, Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, Android, and iOS). Chrome is the only browser on the planet that can make that claim (as Chrome is the only browser that will run on Chrome OS) -- a claim that's becoming ever more important in a world gone mad for mobile.
I don't have a prediction for Firefox. Will it die? Will it become an "arm" of Google? Will it get a second wind and, thus, a second life? No one really knows at this point. If I had to make a guess, I'd say both Firefox and IE will fall to Chrome. The difference is that IE is embedded into the psyche of many users, so it won't suffer as much as Firefox.
The gloves are off and Chrome is set to rumble. How do you think this fight will end? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.