Mozilla Firefox must defeat 7 deadly opponents in order to win the hearts of users…
Wait… that sounds like some movie!
OK, but really, what I wanted to talk about is Firefox. The once darling browser of the digital elite, and how it may have fallen from grace.
Mozilla was the first popular open source browser, and it stole market share from Internet Explorer. That’s a win. But eventually Safari came along, and then Chrome. Both Safari and Chrome seem to have a mission to simplify things for the user, which, if you know the history of Firefox, is sort of amusing, as it too came about with the idea that the browser needed to be smaller, simpler, and faster. (At least smaller, simpler, and faster than the Mozilla Suite it was replacing.) It succeeded on all counts, and became quite popular. The “smaller, simpler, and faster” formula was a good one.. and others followed it.
I’m pretty sure both Safari and Chrome suggest that they exist to provide their users the best browsing experience possible, and both continue to work towards that goal. It’s a noble goal, and I applaud it… But I don’t blindly believe it.
At a previous job, we used to have this great user experience game, where we could make the point that anything we did could be justified by the idea that it “provided a better user experience.” For instance, we served large banner ads. How could this provide a better user experience? Well, we would say that without the ads, we’d make no money from the sites, and have to shut them down, so obviously a site with ads provides a better user experience than a site that does not exist.
Now in the case of Safari, I’m fine believing that Apple wanted a really fast browser for Mac OS X. Microsoft had abandoned Internet Explorer, and Apple doesn’t always like to rely on others for things, especially something as basic as web browsing. Along came Safari. For Mac OS X. And eventually for Windows. (But not Linux.)
Google used to put a lot of resources into Firefox, but eventually I think they saw that they too could attempt to control the browsing experience, and along came Chrome. Chrome is the easiest way for you to feed almost everything you do online directly into the Google Tracking Machine. Your search history, your browsing history, your bookmarks… everything. If you completely trust Google with all of your data (and I know many of you do, from email to documents to maps to, pretty much everything else!) then I guess you’re fine. Sign it all over to the Google Machine. I mean, they can’t be evil, right?
Now, competition is a good thing… and Safari and Chrome both came along and had some interesting features, and Firefox caught up with some of them, and is still catching up with some of them, but more recently I’m seeing this trend of people switching away from Firefox, as it has me concerned. It has me concerned because I feel like if people are just switching to another browser because it’s “faster” that it’s like saying “I switched to only eating at McDonalds because it’s cheaper!” and really, that’s a steady diet of yuck.
In another post I’ll examine why alternatives to Firefox may not be as good as you think they are, as well as look at the reasons people gave me for switching away from Firefox.