Tag Archives | Browsers

Five Reasons to Celebrate Firefox’s Fifth Birthday

Firefox is FiveMozilla’s Firefox 1.0 officially became available on November 9th, 2004–which means that the Little Browser That Could officially turns five today. It’s not the world’s dominant browser–while market share estimates vary widely, all show that Internet Explorer still has a sizable lead–but it’s surely the most beloved browser on the planet.

(It’s definitely the dominant browser in the Technologizer community–around 40 percent of visits have been made using it this month, via 28 percent with IE, 18 percent with Safari, and nine percent with Chrome.)

In celebration of Firefox’s first half-decade, here are some quick reflections on why it’s one of the most significant software products of this or any other era:

1. It reignited the browser wars. Back in 2004, Internet Explorer had more than ninety percent of the market and seemed to be on its way to as close to 100 percent as any product could conceivably attain. Other alternative browsers, such as Opera and earlier versions of Mozilla, had market shares that looked like rounding errors. Then Firefox appeared and quickly gained traction. Its strategy for success was a clever one: It was just a good browser, period. And today, there are more significant browsers than during any period since the inception of the Web: IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera, and the Firefox variant I have a soft spot for, Flock. There’s probably some alternate world in which Firefox didn’t come along, IE’s market share is still monopolistic, and the Web is a much less interesting place.

2. It helped enable powerful Web apps. The leading browser of the pre-Firefox era, IE 6, was notoriously, willfully contemptuous of Web standards. Writing sophisticated Web-based applications such as e-mail clients that work with it was an exercise in frustration, albeit one which any company that wanted to write such apps had to go through. But Firefox set a good example by adhering to standards such as CSS and JavaScript that enable today’s Web apps. And Safari (which predated Firefox), Chrome, and even IE 8 all get it, too.

3. It’s the most mainstream open-source project to date. Linux is a remarkable accomplishment, but its domain remains servers and geeks who are passionate about software. Firefox showed the open-source community could build something that appealed to just about everybody–including folks who have no idea what open-source software is.

4. It’s spurned bloat. In many ways, today’s Firefox 3.5 doesn’t feel radically different from 2004’s Firefox 1.0. That’s a good thing–Mozilla has added features sparingly and avoided the temptation to lard its browser up with “improvements” that mostly add clutter. Instead, it offers one of the richest platforms for add-ons that the software world has ever known, allowing every Firefox user to build a browser that has exactly the features that he or she wants.

5. It gave the Netscape story an unexpectedly happy ending. The tale of the once-mighty Netscape Navigator was a sad one, whether you believed that its fall was due to unfair tactics by Microsoft or self-inflicted wounds (or a bit of both). By 2004, Navigator appeared to be well on its way to irrelevance. But Firefox, which exists only because of Netscape’s long-ago decision to open-source its code, is in effect the next-generation Navigator. With all due respect to F. Scott Fitzgerald, its success shows that there are indeed second acts in American lives. At least if the American in question happens to be a piece of software.

No, Firefox isn’t perfect–if I get a moment, I’ll write about five challenges it faces–but its huge influence made the world a better place. Even if you use IE or one of its other competitors.

Your thoughts, celebratory or otherwise?


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Microsoft’s Odd (and, in One Case, Utterly Revolting) Ads for Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer 8 LogoInternet Explorer 8 is a decent browser, but there’s a new ad for it (showing only online, according to Idsgn, which is where I read about it by way of Daring Fireball) that not only doesn’t make me want to use IE, but has me contemplating going door to door, beseeching my fellow human beings to avoid it.

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Europe Gives Internet Explorer the Boot from Windows 7. Big Deal!

Internet Explorer Gets the BootLooks like any lingering question about the European Union’s antitrust case against Microsoft delaying the release of Windows 7 just ended. Earlier today, Cnet’s Ina Fried reported that Microsoft will release versions of the new OS that are sans Internet Explorer for sale in Europe. Microsoft has confirmed its intentions.

The Europe-only versions of Windows 7 will have an “E” appended to their names (such as “Windows 7 Home Premium E), and their existence apparently eliminates concerns that Microsoft is competing unfairly with Mozilla, Opera, and other browser makers by bundling IE with the world’s dominant operating system. European consumers and businesses will be free to download IE or any other browser, of course. And Microsoft says that PC manufacturers will be able to bundle IE if they so choose, in which case the end result will still be a computer with Windows 7 and IE 8 installed.

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Google Makes Chrome Speed Boost Boast. Who’s Next?

chromelogo5Google is boasting that an update to Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine and Webkit browsing component has yielded a significant improvement in performance. Yippee. Now, who’s next?

The renewed browser war resembles more of a game of leapfrog than the big-bang releases of the 1990’s when one version of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator could change the balance of power in the browser wars overnight. Google says that Chrome is now 30% faster with today’s upgrade. That matches a performance claim made by Opera in about its new “Presto” rendering engine.

Two months ago, the Mozilla Foundation was bragging about how much snappier Firefox 3.5 will be over its predecessor. Apple, and many recent benchmarks conclude that Safari 4 is the title holder of ‘world’s fastest browser,’ and Microsoft has introduced Internet Explorer 8 by performing benchmarks of its own.

Irrespective of how many fewer milliseconds one of these browsers might take to render JavaScript, they are all getting better, in terms of standards support and performance. The real world implication is that each browser runs AJAX Web apps better than they did a year ago, and pages are being rendered with greater consistency.

Many of them have already have adopted parts of the upcoming HTML 5 specification–the lingua franca of the Web–even though it is far from being finalized. The working group responsible for it is open to breaking it up into smaller pieces.

For the first time in years, there is major innovation happening in the browsers due to increased competition. Opera has longo liked to play the role of innovator; now it’s matching wits against Apple and Google. Mozilla Firefox, the first browser to dent Microsoft’s seemingly immovable market share, is not longer the cock of the walk.

Not too long ago, it seemed as if browsers were maturing. All I can say, is that this latest round of competition is a very good thing for people who use (and create) Web apps, and those who care about standards.


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War of the Firefox Extension Developers

firefoxlgoArs Technica’s Ryan Paul has posted a good piece on an alarming story: The developers of two popular and useful Firefox extensions, NoScript and AdBlock Plus, descended into an ugly squabble that involved each one attempting to interfere with the other’s operation–and which eventually led to NoScript having secret features designed to futz around with AdBlock Plus, if it was present. In a roundabout way, the ugly situation did Firefox users a service by making clear something which many of us didn’t know: Firefox doesn’t do enough to draw boundaries between extensions that prevent them from interfering with each other. The good news is that Mozilla is reacting to the tussle by establishing guidelines for what extension behavior is and isn’t kosher. NoScript’s developer has published an apology and agreed to follow the new rules. And I, for one, will be a tad paranoid from now on when installing new extensions–especially since the recent unpleasantness involved not obscure rogue add-ons but two of the best-known Firefox enhancers on the planet.


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Microsoft Does Its Own Browser Benchmarking

Internet Explorer 8In recent months, the hottest topic in the world of Web browsing has been speed. Apple says its beta version of Safari 4 is the world’s fastest browser. The first thing Google tells you about Chrome is that it’s “faster.” Better performance is a key feature in Mozilla’s upcoming Firefox 3.5. Opera says that its alpha of Opera 10 is “30% faster.”

And Microsoft? Well, mostly it’s had to contend with coverage like this story that reports that Safari is forty-two times faster than Internet Explorer 7 and six times faster than IE 8.

Today, the company is fighting back. It’s done its own speed benchmarks and has created a video about them and published a white paper about browser benchmarking. Here’s a stunner: It’s not concluding that IE is a horribly slow browser. In fact, it says that Internet Explorer 8 is not only competitive, but loads many of the world’s most popular Web sites faster than Firefox 3.0 or Chrome 1.0. I met with IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch last week, and he made the same claim.

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Flock: Goodbye Mozilla, Hello Chrome?

Flock LogoTechCrunch’s Michael Arrington (who’s back from his month-long blogging hiatus) is reporting that one of my favorite products is going to undergo a radical change. Flock, the browser with built-in support for Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites, will supposedly dump Mozilla, the platform that’s most famously used by Firefox, and build a new version of Flock that uses Google’s Chrome as its engine.

Arrington says that the Flock folks feel like they don’t get enough love from the Mozilla team, and while I don’t know if his scoop is the real deal and have no insider info on the back story here, I do recall once asking the Mozilla team a question that involved Flock, and feeling the tension in the room ratchet up a notch. It’s hard, of course, for Mozilla to both keep busy spreading Firefox and also help a Firefox rival like Flock be successful. But Flock might face the same challenges if it ends up working with Google. We’ll see.

A Chrome-based Flock could potentially have some upsides–the current version, like Firefox, is slow to load (on my Mac, anyhow) and sometimes feels piggy when it comes to resources. Chrome’s emphasis on efficiency could result in a meaner, leaner Flock. (At the moment, Chrome is Windows-only while Flock also speaks OS X and Linux, but Chrome’s support for those two OSes will likely be ready long before a Chromed Flock is complete.)

But if Flock does go the Chrome route, it has one major implication for current users: Right now, one nice thing about Flock is that it runs nearly all Firefox extensions just fine. There are surely Flock fans who, if forced to choose between sticking with Flock and keeping their favorite extensions, would keep the extensions and switch to Firefox. Given that Flock remains a cult favorite rather than the mass-market hit its creators would like it to be, it would be a shame if the lack of extensions bummed out too many of its existing users.

I’ve asked Flock if it has any comment on all this, and will report back…

Update! Here’s a statement from Flock CEO Shawn Hardin:

Flock hasn’t ceased development efforts on the Mozilla platform.  Our upcoming release of Flock 2.1 is built on the Mozilla platform. Having said that, the browser space is heating up, and we’ve seen a variety of new technologies emerge over the last several months that are appealing.

We always have and will continue to make architectural decisions that balance what’s best for our users and what’s best for Flock as a business.  This has resulted in a healthy, growing user base and business for Flock, and we expect this to continue in 2009. In fact, with almost seven million downloads almost entirely from word of mouth, Flock enjoys a highly satisfied user base (consistently over 92% customer satisfaction, with very strong net promoter scores, and an average of four hours of usage per day).

With a continuing focus on user-centered browser innovation, our team is in active research and development on a range of exciting new enhancements to Flock.   It is still far too early to comment on anything specific, but we are very excited about this design phase.

That’s not an acknowledgment that Flock is switching platforms, but it also falls very far short of the commitment to Mozilla you’d think Flock might express if TechCrunch’s report was hooey. It’s not startling that there’s going to be a Flock 2.1, or that it’ll be built on the existing Mozilla underpinnings–if Flock is indeed moving to Chrome, it’s going to take awhile, so an interim Mozilla-based update makes sense.


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One Windows. Multiple Browsers. Bundled. I Like It!

win7firefox1Once again, those wacky Europeans are making life difficult for Microsoft. A site called EurActive is reporting that Microsoft’s ongoing antitrust tussle with the European Commission will result in the company being forced to help European Windows users opt for a browser that isn’t Internet Explorer. The details are yet to be worked out–the OS might include some sort of mechanism for choosing among multiple browsers, or Microsoft might be forced to work with PC manufacturers to install alternative browsers on new systems. Microsoft is apparently concerned enough that it has a secret plan to delay Windows 7’s release if necessary, reports our own Dave Worthington.

When you’re forced to do something you don’t particularly want to do, there are two ways to go about it: grudgingly or whole-heartedly. Previous legally-mandated editions of Windows such as the Korea-only Windows XP K and KN are the result of the first approach, and I’m not sure if they made anyone other than the government officials who required them happy.

But what if Microsoft poured its collective energy, intellect, and resources into making the best possible multiple-browser Windows–and then made it the standard version of the OS worldwide?

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Is Internet Explorer a Goner? Will It Ever Be?

RIP IE“Soon, Majority of Web Users Will No Longer Use IE.” That’s the headline on a story by Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb, reporting on browser market-share numbers from Net applications that have IE being used by 67.5 percent of Internet users, down 7 percent in a year–and down from 90+ percent a few years ago.

Marshall’s title is provocative–is the day really nearing when IE users will be in the minority? (Actually, he defines “soon” loosely, since he says it might take a few years.) I don’t think there’s any real way to project where IE will be in the future based on its decline in recent years. Absent some truly startling development–I once suggested that Microsoft get out of the browser business and simply use Firefox as the basis for Windows’ browser, but it wasn’t listening, apparently–there must be some floor below which IE usage won’t fall. A meaningful chunk of Windows users consists of folks who give little or no thought to Web browsers, and will therefore use whatever Microsoft provides; the big question is just how large that chunk is.

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Internet Explorer RC1: The Technologizer Review

Internet Explorer 8

By any standard, Internet Explorer remains the planet’s dominant Web browser. Even after serious shrinkage over the past few years, estimates of its market share range from around 70 percent to 80 percent, a figure that just about any player in any business would happily take. Yet IE is a beleaguered giant. It’s got companies small (Mozilla, Opera) and huge (Google, Apple) nipping at its heels with alternative browsers. It’s still trying to shake its reputation for poor security. The more sophisticated a consumer of the Web you are, the less likely it is that your browser hails from Redmond. And it’s so widely used that even minor changes have major implications.

I’ve been thinking about all of these factors as I’ve spent time with Internet Explorer 8 Release Candidate 1, which Microsoft released on Monday. Every one of them has an impact on this near-final product, which adds a few features with no counterparts in other browsers; works hard to make its emphasis on safety as tangible as possible; and, when all is said and done, seems a bit hobbled by the sheer size of the user base it’s trying to serve.

Judging from this blog post by IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch, a conversation I had with him myself last week, and–most important–the browser itself,  I think Microsoft is aiming IE 8 at the teeming masses of folks out there who aren’t browser junkies. Maybe even folks who don’t make any conscious decision about browsers at all, other than whether to upgrade to the newest version of IE or not. Which makes perfect sense. But it means that if you’re content with Firefox, Opera, Safari, Chrome, or my underdog favorite Flock, there’s nothing in IE 8 that’s so strikingly better that it’s likely to lure you back.

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