Firefox again flirts with dangerous 10 percent user share level

Declines resume, browser settles at its lowest point since August 2006


Mozilla's Firefox, returning to a multi-month cycle of user share losses, is again flirting with the dangerous 10 percent milestone, according to data from analytics company Net Applications.

In October, Firefox's user share rang in at 11.3 percent, Net Applications said Sunday. That was a two-tenths of a percentage point dip from the month before, and the fourth consecutive month of contraction.

The October mark was Firefox's lowest since August 2006, when it had been on the market less than two years and only begun to threaten Internet Explorer, which accounted for 83 percent of all browsers at the time.

Nine months ago, Firefox was on a similar trajectory, its user share declining at rates that, if they had continued, would have quickly dropped the browser under 10 percent and put it in the same also-ran tier as Apple's Safari and Opera Software's Opera.

Instead, Firefox's user share recovered in three of the next four months, edging back to 12 percent. Then in July, the declines resumed.

In the last four months, Firefox's user share -- an estimate of the portion of all those who reach the Internet via a desktop browser -- has dropped eight-tenths of a percentage point, or about 7 percent of its total. Losses like that may seem small, but they are unsustainable over any length of time.

Unless Mozilla can again retard Firefox's 12-month average rate of decline, the browser will fall under the 11 percent bar in December, and slip below 10 percent in April, joining Safari (with a 5 percent user share in October) and Opera (1.3 percent) in the single-digit club. If the trend continued even longer, Firefox on the desktop could drop under 9 percent as soon as August 2016.

Mozilla and Firefox face a tough future: The desktop browser continues to shed share -- often quickly, sometimes at a slower pace -- and the company's mobile projects, including Firefox on Android and Firefox OS, the lightweight operating system pitched to low-end smartphone makers, have not been able to make up the difference. Net Applications pegged Firefox on mobile at just 0.75 percent in October. While that was up about one-tenth of a point since June, it represented less than a third of the also-anemic Internet Explorer.

Developers are working on Firefox for iOS, and Mozilla has said it will produce a preview by year's end. But that's unlikely to make a difference in Mozilla's fortunes, since Apple has ensured that rival iPhone browsers cannot best Safari in performance.

Mozilla competes at a substantial disadvantage. Unlike rivals Microsoft and Apple, Mozilla must battle without the benefit of an operating system to give it pride of place on hundreds of millions of devices. Unlike Google, whose Chrome has jumped above 30 percent on both desktop and mobile in the last year, Mozilla operates on a shoestring.

Still, Firefox's demise has been predicted more than once -- including by Computerworld -- and the browser has survived if not thrived. The next few months will be critical, for if it loses much more user share, the decline could easily become irreversible and sub-10 percent the new norm.

Firefox vs Chrome Data: Net Applications

Firefox's and Chrome's two-year histories could not be more different: Mozilla's browser has been on a steady downward trajectory, while Google's long ago stole second place and now has a reasonable shot at displacing Internet Explorer as the world's most popular.

This story, "Firefox again flirts with dangerous 10 percent user share level" was originally published by Computerworld.

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