Reports of Firefox's demise are greatly exaggerated

With Chrome 10, IE 9, and Firefox 4 available, all hands are on the table. In spite of what you may have read, Firefox isn't folding

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So why the doom and gloom about Firefox?

The argument goes that Microsoft is innovating its browser at breakneck speed, and Google's been revving Chrome like a Ferrari Enzo, but it took 12 beta versions and three years to get Firefox 4 out the door. Moreover, Microsoft and Google are playing in a multiplatform world, with phones, tablets, and PCs, and the browser ties it all together.

Firefox doesn't have that breadth. Between the stagnation and scant single-platform prospects, Firefox's fortunes are limited. Or so they say -- while there's a great deal of truth in that analysis, it fails to account for several key points.

The folks at Firefox know it took too long to get Firefox 4 out the door, and they're planning on kicking some organizational tail to straighten things out. While it's hard to believe they can churn out a new version every 16 weeks, as promised in the latest plan, they seem to be headed in the right direction.

Anyone who thinks Microsoft can turn out a significant IE upgrade in short order is ignoring tons of history. In fact, with the new burden of having IE run identically on completely disparate platforms -- sorry, but Windows Phone 7 has almost nothing in common, programmatically, with Windows 7 -- the task of creating a one-size-fits-all browser may prove impossible. At least it'll take more than 16 weeks.

Then there's the regulatory environment. Firefox has pioneered a very simple Do Not Track bit that allows users to notify websites when they don't want to be tracked. IE9, on the other hand, has an elaborate Tracking Protection scheme, a way to proactively block specific sites from collecting information. (The jury's still out on how well it'll work, how many people will actually understand and use it, and which third parties will support it; details in Pete Babb's Tech Watch post.) I expect we'll see a lot of debate in coming months about a national Do Not Track policy. Firefox's approach may well persevere.

That leads me to the one big advantage Firefox has over IE and Chrome: Microsoft and Google have huge vested interests in online advertising. Every browser decision they make is influenced -- some would say tainted -- by another part of the company that makes big bucks compromising users' privacy. That's how the online advertising game is played. There's no question who pays the piper.

To be sure, Firefox isn't squeaky clean. In recent years, more than 80 percent of the Mozilla Foundation's income has come from Google. The nonprofit has been accused of changing features in Firefox, under pressure from the advertising industry. But of the big three, only Firefox stands a chance of remaining somewhat independent, a voice for customers, not advertisers.

Don't count Firefox out yet.

This story, "Reports of Firefox's demise are greatly exaggerated," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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