During the past five years Mozilla Firefox has quietly carved out a nice little niche as an alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but Google Chrome is starting to steal some of its thunder.
Firefox's share of usage in the Web browser market peaked at 24.7% in November 2009. Since then it has dropped back. It was at 23.8% in June, according to NetApplications and reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The primary culprit behind the Firefox dip is the other alternative browser -- Google Chrome. The Internet search giant launched its Chrome at the end of 2008 and it has been on a steady climb ever since. Chrome reached global market share of 7.24% in June, and it has taken that market share at the expense of both IE and Firefox, as you can see in the chart below (from The Wall Street Journal).
The rise of Chrome could also have bigger implications for Firefox. Google was previously Mozilla's top benefactor for the Web browser, supplying engineering resources and a contract that paid Mozilla to make Google the default search engine in Firefox. Google's engineering support for Firefox has already ended and the lucrative search deal with Mozilla expires in 2011.
Meanwhile, the Web itself is preparing for a major step forward with HTML5, which will introduce powerful new capabilities that Web developers can build into their Web pages. As a result, the rise of HTML5 will likely accelerate the migration of even more applications to the Web and will make Web browsers even more important.
Yesterday, Mozilla released Firefox 4 Beta 1, with a new interface and several new features that appear to be influenced by Chrome. But, it remains to be seen whether Firefox 4 will help Mozilla maintain its Web browser market share -- especially without the backing of Google -- or if Chrome will continue to chip away.
With that in mind, it's time to ask all of you techies which of the two you prefer.
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Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.