The Best Hope for the Future of Firefox

Even as Google extends Mozilla’s funding for another three years, Firefox is losing market share.

The clock is ticking. Google has extended its revenue agreement with Mozilla for another three years. Last year, 98 percent of Mozillas funds were from Google, and without it, development of Firefox would be severely hampered.

With Firefox market share falling, will businesses find it relevant three years from now? And what if Google doesnt extend the agreement at that point, and the money runs out?

The Challenges

Firefox faces many challenges, some self-imposed, but the largest of which are based on its being in an extremely competitive browser market. Here are the top three.

1. Power Users

Power users initially loved Firefox due to its extended features and customizability. Recently, Googles Chrome browser has provided the same, and went further with better security and speed, causing many power users to switch over.

2. Deep Pockets

Mozilla is a nonprofit organization, and Firefox is an open-source project. Though neither of its top two competitors, Google's Chrome or Microsofts Internet Explorer, are direct money generators, both companies depend on browsers as a window to their online products. For Google, ads on Web pages generate most of its money, so it wants to get as many ad-filled Web pages in front of users as possible.

3. Mobile Market

Though 93 percent of Web browsing is done through desktops and laptops, mobile browsing has nearly doubled in the last year to reach almost 8 percent. This is likely to grow exponentially in the next year, as tablets and e-readers hit the mainstream, and nearly every new mobile phone will have a Web browser. Apple and Google own the default browsers on the popular mobile devices, giving them a huge advantage.

An Opportunity

Desktops arent dead yet, but eventually you can expect mobile usage to surpass desktop usage, perhaps within those three years for which Mozilla has secured Google's funding. As users and businesses embrace new phones and tablets, theyll be learning how best to browse the Web with them, and how to seamlessly share the browsing experience among their desktops and mobile devices. This is where Firefox could make could make a difference.

Despite controlling Chrome and Androids default browser, Google has done little to make switching between the two easy, besides introducing bookmark syncing in the Android Ice Cream Sandwich update. Even though Apple gave the Safari name to both its mobile and desktop browsers, it also hasnt paid attention to moving between them.

Mozilla already has a mobile version of Firefox that uses Firefox Sync to sync browsing history, open tabs, bookmarks, and saved passwords. If it were to release an iOS version as well--as mobile browser Dolphin did--it would have a presence on the top smartphones and tablets. It would also have to make deals with mobile device vendors to have Firefox preinstalled.

Finally, Mozilla needs to find that killer app type of feature or functionality, possibly with help from its open-source community, that will allow it to stand out from the competition. The combination of these would make Firefox much more useful and visible.

Google has its thumb on Firefox, but is enabling it to live a bit longer. If Firefox is to remain competitive several years from now, it has to make a difference, as it did in its early days. Finding a killer feature and working not only across the major operating systems, but between desktops and mobile devices as well, could be Firefoxs saving grace. Will Mozilla make it happen?

Joseph Fieber has 25 years experience as an IT pro, with a background in computer consulting and software training. Follow him on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter, or contact him through his website,

This story, "The Best Hope for the Future of Firefox" was originally published by PCWorld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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