We're number two: Firefox grabs more market share

Mozilla's successful attempt to set a world record for downloads of a single program, Firefox 3 was dumb. It was also incredibly successful.

Does anyone really care about how many copies of a program are downloaded in a day? In 2008? When a program can be downloaded from hundreds of different sites? When BitTorrent and other P2P (peer-to-peer) networks makes measuring file 'downloads' more of an exercise in speculative fiction than a science?

I guess so because, not even counting the fuzzy downloads of P2P networks and the like, Firefox was downloaded 8.3-million times in one day. This is spiffy. Meaningless in and of itself, but spiffy.

Having said that, I will say Mozilla's pounding the drum for downloading Firefox did do one good thing. It did a great job of marketing Firefox.

There was a time when Firefox was new and exciting. Lately, though, Firefox's coat was looking more dusty than lustrous. Firefox, with a security problem here and another one there, was becoming 'yawn' just another program.

Mind you, it wasn't. I believe Firefox 3 has set a new standard for Web browsers. It's certainly the best browser I've ever seen, and I've seen almost all of them.

Other reviewers, like Paul Thurrott, Paul Venezia, and Michael Muchmore all agreed that Firefox 3 was great. Someone somewhere may have given it a negative review, but I looked, and I honestly couldn't find a single significant bad review.

You know what though? Even with a whole chorus of reviewers singing Firefox's praises, I think that silly download day stunt may have done more for Firefox. Why? Because it got people excited about Firefox again. It wasn't just that Firefox really was shiny and re-newed, it was that people really wanted to check out this exciting new Firefox.

And, that's important, not because of the 8.3-million downloads, it's because of another number. Firefox's marketshare number hit a new high: 19%. In early June, before Firefox 3's release, Net Applications Inc.'s executive vice president of marketing, Vince Vizzaccaro, said that "Firefox is trending to hit 20% market share sometime in July."

Of course, that still means Firefox is a distant number two to Internet Explorer. But, is it really and even if it is, so what? The old Avis car slogan, was "We're number two. We try harder." Avis went from single-digit market shares in the early 60s to about a 33% market share in a year. Can Firefox, with its greatly improved browser and a new wave of excitement do the same? I don't see why not.

For that matter, I'm not sure that Firefox hasn't already done so.

The articles you read about how Firefox's market share numbers have improved are all based on what average users are doing on average Web sites. Let's take a closer look. While Internet Explorer is number one, do you know what version of IE is the most popular? According to most of the studies I've seen it's still that old stinker IE 6. In case you've forgotten, IE 7 was introduced in October 2006 and Microsoft has been doing its darnest to get everyone switched over ever since.

What that tells me is that the real reason IE is still the dominant Web browser is because most users are too dumb and lazy to upgrade their systems. As technical support staffers everywhere knows many PC problems come down to a bad case of PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair).

Another reason why I think PEBKAC is what really keeps IE so far ahead in the Web browser market share race is that while most companies won't tell you what their sites reveal about their readership, I run my own small technology news and opinion site, Practical Technology and I will tell you what my numbers say.

My audience tends to be tech savvy. They sure aren't coming to my site for the Paris Hilton gossip, gambling tips, or stock market predictions. Of my technology fans and IT staffers and executives, 68.2% were already using Firefox in June. That, let me point out, was 68.2% of the Windows users. Only 11.8% of Window users were using any version of IE. My readers who were using IE, were, I'm pleased to report, almost all using IE 7. I'm willing to bet that if your Web site is meant for people who know anything about what's what with the Web, the majority of your audience are also Firefox users.

So, what does all this mean? It means that Firefox has gotten back some of its excitement mojo. It means that to the general public, Firefox 3 may be number two but it is trying harder. To people with two clues to rub together, it means that Firefox has re-ignited and become the number one Web browser. At this rate, maybe Firefox will be everyone's number one Web browser sometime soon.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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