Back in 2009 Firefox was on top of the world, enjoying the good life as the world’s go-to alternative Web browser, alternative to the far and away first place finisher Internet Explorer that is. Sure the browser’s second place 23.75 percent of the market share wasn’t world beating, but it was respectable; life was good at Mozilla. But like many things in life, the Internet is a fickle place, and shortly after that Firefox started its decline, the slow yet ominous beginnings of an avalanche that now threatens Firefox’s very existence.
Now with just a cursory glance at Net Applications’ web desktop browser market share reports over the last few years two things immediately jump out at me: the steady rise of Google Chrome, jumping into second place behind IE, and the precipitous drop of Firefox, the browser hitting a new five-year low at 15.6 percent of the market share.
There are no shortage of possible reasons behind Firefox’s diminishing presence, be it the alienation of casual users by short-lived Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich being (wrongly) labelled a bigot, or as web developer Jacob Barkdull explains, “Mozilla’s tendency to be slow to adopt and implement new web tech.” Whatever the reasons behind Firefox’s decline the numbers don’t lie, Mozilla’s browser is on the way down, and things will only get worse from here.
Early on the draw of Firefox was that it was designed as a user-friendly, user-first alternative platform, a place where Web users could go to escape the ads and pop-ups that flooded its rivals search pages ad nauseam. But of course that browser paradise was simply too good to be true, as Mozilla introduced Google driven advertising on Firefox, leaving the dream of a user-friendly platform shattered on the floor.
Then there was the CEO controversy that plagued the company, the hiring and firing of Brendan Eich over his one time contribution to a group opposing gay marriage. Sure from all reports Eich was a great guy to work with, but when everyone found out that he held some controversial views, well he was out the door so fast he likely hadn’t even unpacked his office.
But while these events have likely contributed to Firefox’s decline, what will likely keep the browser from recovering is what is coming up next, the renewal of Mozilla’s advertising contract with Google. As the ZDNet report explains, “This is significant because over 90 percent of Mozilla’s revenue comes from Google but Google now has its own browser. It’s hard to see Google renewing the deal.” Not only does Google have its own browser, however; its browser currently sits in second place, the de facto alternative to IE (although with none of genuine concern for the user experience we saw initially with Firefox).
Although Mozilla is making a push into the mobile market with both its Firefox mobile OS and its budget Firefox phones, the reality is that neither of those things has the capability of offsetting the losses that will stem from losing the ad contract with Google.
As ZDNet notes, what we may be seeing here is the beginning of the end for Firefox, the start of the long, slow decline that it simply cannot reverse, ending in the browser joining the likes of Netscape in the world of Internet has-beens.