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Analysis: Firefox faces challenges as it matures

With Microsoft updating IE, can the open-source browser flourish?

By Juan Carlos Perez
September 20, 2005 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - When Version 1.0 of Firefox was released last November (see "Mozilla launches Firefox 1.0 browser"), it caused a sensation as a seemingly more secure and more feature-rich alternative to Microsoft Corp.'s ubiquitous Internet Explorer, which for years had held a market share north of 90% -- and which Microsoft had barely bothered to improve.
Since then, Firefox has achieved what no other browser had accomplished in years: It attained a significant market share at Internet Explorer's expense. Firefox now holds a market share of between 7% and 9%, according to various market research estimates.
But as Firefox nears its first birthday, its maker, The Mozilla Foundation, faces significant challenges, analysts said. These include quickly discovering and fixing security vulnerabilities, competing against an upcoming Internet Explorer upgrade and broadening Firefox's user base beyond its core of technically savvy users.
The stream of Firefox security vulnerabilities uncovered in recent months is par for the course for a young software product (see "Symantec report sparks safe-browser debate"). But it may disappoint users who switched to Firefox expecting it to be immune to security holes.
While the myth of Firefox as a totally secure browser is gone, Microsoft is upgrading Internet Explorer to try to close the features gap that attracted users to Firefox (see "RSA: Gates promises new version of IE by mid-year"). Internet Explorer 7 is now in a beta phase, meaning that Mozilla must keep its browser one step ahead of Internet Explorer in features and innovation.
Finally, although Mozilla says that Firefox has anywhere between 40 million and 50 million active users, it needs to appeal to a more mainstream audience as well as to corporate IT departments to give its usage growth a boost, analysts said.
Mozilla isn't keeping still. The first major Firefox upgrade, code-named Deer Park and known as Version 1.5, is now in beta-testing and is slated for general availability by November or December (see "Firefox 1.5 beta released"). The new features in Firefox 1.5 are useful and convenient but not earth-shattering, and the coming months will be critical for it to hold on to its user base and remain a viable alternative to Internet Explorer, according to analysts.
"Firefox 1.5 features improvements that are necessary and valuable but not necessarily compelling. It will not re-energize the usage growth, which is going through a natural slowing down that happens with maturity," said Ray Valdes, a Gartner Inc. analyst.
Firefox 1.5 features better usability, performance, extensibility, security and privacy, as well as faster Web navigation due to advanced caching and prerendering of content, said Chris

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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