In the last couple of weeks, there’s been much trash talking about how Firefox is doomed to lose to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Most of the talk has centered on things like Firefox not having enough servers to push automated patches and the way extensions and third-party add-ons break with nightly builds and so on, then there is the debate of opensource even being a real option for business use. There is also an urgency by the industry for big business to take over Firefox like IBM and other companies are pushing Linux, of course the most likely candidate is Google, who has both the money and the programmers to really take Firefox to new heights. But all this ignores the roots of Firefox and why millions of users are now running Firefox instead of IE, namely that Firefox is all about individual perfection.
For those pundits who like to marry Google and Firefox, think about Apple’s Safari and how different Firefox and Safari are evolving. It is no secret that Apple is working hard on Safari and that it is a fine browser, and surely Apple has both the programmers and the funds available to make Safari successful, but it is also apparent that Apple has very different definitions of what makes a browser successful, as would Google if they took over Firefox. Safari has to be a show piece of everything MacOS X can do, it has to integrate and use OS X technologies like the universal Address Book, Keychain, and Quartz. Even though Apple does take user feedback for Safari and the rendering engine for Safari is opensource, the rest of the browser is not, in essence the fate of Safari is clearly in Apple’s hands and no one elses. This is the same path that Microsoft has taken with Internet Explorer.
Firefox is opensource and with it so is the openness of not only the code, but the entire community around it. The extensions and add-on themes have enabled Firefox to be something which neither Safari or IE can be, a browser you can modify for your own personal use. This makes Firefox the most adoptable of all browsers and it also fills the needs of not only geeks who want to run beta software and theme their apps, but also businesses who have a vested interest in modifying the code they use. In the end, Firefox does not have to have 90% market share to be successful, it already is, because like MacOS X, like Photoshop, and like Microsoft Word, it fills a niche that it did not create, but which it clearly competes very well in. Having Google take over Firefox would only damage the project, because it would sidetrack it into being a competition of features with Microsoft, which it honestly can’t win. If we let Firefox progress on its own, we will have a browser that does what it is suppose to do, and with the added flexibility to customize as much as we want.
I doubt Microsoft or any other company for that matter could deliver such a product and be so open as to let its users try out nightly builds. Firefox already has a market and a user base, and that is what makes software successful.