Is the geek love affair with Firefox waning?

 

I remember a time not that long ago when most geeks agreed that Firefox was the best browser (oddly enough, I was still using IE because I wasn’t impressed by Firefox’s stability and resource usage). Since then things have changed a lot. All the major browsers have become a lot better, and as a result of this some who were previously loyal Firefox users are making the switch to other browsers.

Keir Thomas of PC World has the following to say:

This is an exciting time for Web browsers. Google Chrome is now available in alpha for Linux, and I downloaded it for Ubuntu. Despite the fact that I was running it on my rather underpowered Dell Mini 9, it started in the blink of an eye. Additionally, any JavaScript-heavy sites like Gmail or Google Docs were so responsive that it’s almost unbelievable.

Does that sound familiar? That’s right. It’s just like how Firefox used to be.

Mozilla have several grand aims, and there’s much to be admired, but they’ve forgotten how to make a decent browser. I feel plenty of loyalty for them, because they’ve done more than anybody else to further the cause of open source software in the real world. But when I tried Chrome, as incomplete as it was, I realized I’d found a replacement for Firefox. As soon as it gets to beta under Linux, I will switch to Chrome. No question. It’s just infinitely better. It’s like when we all switched from Alta Vista (or Yahoo!) to Google back in the early noughties. The king is dead! Long live the king!

 

I was a long time Internet Explorer user (it came pre-installed on pretty much PC that I used, so it seemed like the most sensible choice). I kept hearing about Firefox and how fast and secure it was, but I was never really impressed enough to switch. Stability never seemed that great to me and while I was impressed by the number of add-ons available, I never really found anything that was a must have. In fact, I stuck with IE until Firefox 3.0 was released, at which point I found my new favorite web browser. I thought I was going to be happy with Firefox for a long time to come.

Problem is, things didn’t stay that way, and two things in particular happened. First, I realized that switching browsers wasn’t all that traumatic an experience, and once I’d made the first leap of faith to a new web browser platform, making another didn’t seem anywhere near as daunting. I found that it was just as easy to make regular use of several browsers as it was one. At the same time existing browsers went through a rapid phase of improvement, and a new browser, Google’s Chrome, became available.

The position I’ve ended up in is one where I’m using different browsers for different things. I have different favorites and different home pages loaded into IE, Firefox, Chrome and Opera and I shift between them regularly. Rather than shifting my allegiance from IE to Firefox, I’ve found myself adopting an agnostic viewpoint as to which browser is “best” and utilizing the strengths of the individual browsers to suit my needs.

The trend that I’ve noticed from the email, comments and TalkBacks I’ve received is that are quite a lot of users who do what I do and use more than one browser. Others are fiercely loyal to the browser they are currently using (these are usually Firefox or Safari users) and can’t see any reason to either shift to a different browser or use more than one browser. Then there are those who would like to make a switch (which seem to be Firefox users wanting to switch to Chrome) but are rely on a specific feature of the browser they are currently using (very often this is an add-on or extension). I’ve also come across a LOT of people who simply won’t try a browser like Chrome because they don’t trust the company behind it. While I’m not really concerned about such things, I can appreciate why others might be.

My take on the browser arena right now is that things are changing. While I’m not for one moment going to suggest that Firefox is in any way doomed or likely to experience a fall off in users, it has to be remembered that it’s taken Mozilla a long time to capture 20% of the browser market. There are now more browsers aimed at the PC (I’m thinking of Safari and Chrome) I think that we’re going to see a situation where future gains are going to be slower simply because there’s more competition.

One complaint I find that’s directed at Firefox often is that the browser has shifted too far away from the early ideals of “fast and secure” and has become bloated. I think how you feel about this will depend on what you want from a browser, but as a rule pretty much every software project increases in complexity as time goes by as the project tries to be all things to all users. The beauty of open source is that if there’s enough demand for a browser that’s less bloated than Firefox, someone will modify the code and make one.

So, what do you think? Have you changed browsers? Have you thought about changing? Is Firefox in danger of being overtaken or is everything OK with the open source project?

by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

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