Mozilla’s missed opportunities

In the past couple of months Mozilla Corporation has sought to narrow its scope. First there was the announcement that at least for the next year and a half or so the focus of platform development will be on developing the Firefox browser as the platform. This primarily means no standalone XULRunner. And since being standalone was kind of the whole point. Now there’s the announcement that they’re dropping Thunderbird because they think it’s a distraction from building their web browser.

When I look at this graph from Janco Associates I see Firefox’s market share’s growth slowing:
(firefox market share chart)

After all, how many people are going to download and install a new web browser. How many people really care enough? How many distribution channels can you find with just a web browser? Mozilla Corporation’s closed minded attitude to XULRunner as a platform and non-browser application might limit the spread of Free Software internet client software.

If we had set of application that could all run against a shared XULRunner runtime it would be easy and cheap to piggy-back them on each other. If a user downloaded Songbird so that they could listen to MP3 blogs on their phone it would be easy to offer them Firefox as a browser alternative, even if they hadn’t been interested in downloading and installing a replacement for Safari or Internet Explorer. If an ISP wanted to bundle Thunderbird to make it easier for their users to access email it would be cheap and easy for them to also offer Firefox because on top of any other XULRunner application Firefox is a small download.

This kind of bundling is often done by the bad guys. If you install Apple’s Quicktime codecs on Windows every update will trigger an iTunes install, even if you haven’t installed iTunes. I’m sure they’ll do the same thing for Safari on Windows. I’m not sure what iTunes’ market share on Windows is but it seems to be significant. If all those users suddenly have Safari installed that could potentially cause a big shake-up in browser market share.

We’re not trying to lock users into proprietary software and proprietary services. We’re trying to show them the potential of free software and open standards to make their lives better. We have the opportunity to do this better by embracing our platform and our ecosystem of applications, but the people holding the purse strings in the community are taking an overly conservative approach. I hope it doesn’t cost us victory and our users freedom.

7 thoughts on “Mozilla’s missed opportunities

  1. how? I’m really confused now. You’re suggesting that applications with no or next to no marketshare can make a measurable impact on Firefox’s marketshare? How does that work exactly? I could understand if you flipped it around and said that Firefox could help build an audience for these other not well known XUL-based applications, but to suggest that Songbird, for example, is in a position to help grow Firefox’s usage, I just don’t get it.

    Firefox has about 110 million users. How many users does Songbird have? How many users do you expect Songbird to have two years from now? I don’t see it.

    I’d also challenge your assertion, based on one stats company’s outdated report, that Firefox growth is slowing. Have you seen XiTI’s latest numbers showing Firefox approaching 30% in Europe and growing about 3% points in 3 months? http://www.xitimonitor.com/en-us/browsers-barometer/firefox-july-2007/index-1-2-3-102.html

    - A

  2. I’m saying that we can reach I’m saying that we can reach more users with a broader set of applications than just a web browser. I don’t believe that Firefox market share can grow to 100% because I don’t think that everyone wants a new web browser. I think that we can reach more people with our free software open standards internet client platform with an approach that appeals to a wider set of users.

    I couldn’t find any other survey that had longer-term statistics. The one you pointed to only covered the past year or so. There are a few countries that are reaching very high levels of use. It’ll be interesting to see the patterns that play out there as they pass 50%.

    The question for me isn’t how many users Songbird (or Thunderbird or Joost or AllPeers) will have in two years. The question is how many users will they have that aren’t Firefox users?

    Ian

  3. I’m not for 100% You said, “I don’t believe that Firefox market share can grow to 100% because I don’t think that everyone wants a new web browser” and I’ll happily agree — and neither would I want any one browser to have 100%, but for there to even be an “open standards internet” for any of the various competing applications to interact with, we had better get a lot closer to 50% of the market than we currently are and then demonstrate that we can hold it for more than a year or two. The game would be over today and the web would be Microsoft’s formats and protocols and not free and open and standardized without Firefox and nothing’s yet really safe. When Firefox hits 40-50% of the global market and we hold for a couple of years, then I think we can start to worry about other applications but I see the browser as the keystone for internet standards, without which no other good is possible.

    - A

  4. I think we can reach I think we can reach significantly more people if we don’t stick to this obsession with the classic web browser. I think there’s incredible opportunity to lead the industry that hasn’t been taken. I think that Mozilla Corporation’s market share has locked it into a very conservative strategy. And this sucks for Freedom.

    I recognize that Firefox is incredibly important to Free Software and the open internet. It’s not the end goal and it’s not what will take us across the finish line.

    Ian

  5. I just get the impression I just get the impression that you think that Firefox has done “enough” or nearly as much as it can to keep the web free and open and it’s past time for other projects and ideas to get focus.

    I don’t think that the we’re safe yet from the threats of IE and a Microsoft Internet and it seems to me that not using the biggest and strongest lever we have against that threat, Firefox, to the maximum effect would be a very foolish mistake.

    The web, as seen through the traditional desktop web browser isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It still accounts for 99.9% of the activity on the web and if one or two companies are allowed to own that space, they’ll be able to leverage that to dominate any new areas of non-browser web that open up. The very real choice is doing the best we can with Firefox to make sure that doesn’t happen, or doing less than the best we can with Firefox and starting to focus on the 0.01% (and growing) experiences of the web that aren’t the traditional web browser. I don’t think option b is the right thing right now. You seem to think it is. We disagree.

    - A

  6. I think we can agree that we I think we can agree that we disagree :-)

    I don’t think Mozilla Corporation’s decision to solely focus on the Firefox browser is the best approach. As of six months ago the Firefox application team at Mozilla was eight people (at least that’s what Mike Connor told me). It feels to me like devoting half that many people to Thunderbird would be a great investment.

    A separate issue is how external developers continue to be excluded from all hands meetings like the one coming up.

    Ian

  7. “A separate issue is how “A separate issue is how external developers continue to be excluded from all hands meetings like the one coming up.”

    What’s an “external” developer? Mozilla developers are organized by modules with owners and peers and in some cases, members. Employment status does not determine who a Mozilla module owner, peer, or member is or isn’t. I assume you’re talking about developers not employed by MoCo. Developers not employed by MoCo who contribute code to Mozilla are definitely not “external”. They outnumber MoCo employee contributors to Mozilla by probably 5-10 to 1 and account for nearly half of all the code that makes it into cvs.mozilla.org. And that’s just the developers. The QA and testing contributions coming from people not paid by MoCo are orders of magnitude larger than those coming from MoCo employees. Marketing and outreach is much the same. None of these people are “external.”

    As for MoCo’s quarterly all-hands, that’s a gathering of the Mozilla Corporation employees who are scattered around the globe at various MoCo offices and not a Mozilla developer event. We host developer events several times a year and in various countries and those are pretty much open to anyone contributing to Mozilla, even non-developers, like our qa and testing contributors, our events coordination contributors, marketing folks, etc.

    Most MoCo employees are Mozilla contributors, but most Mozilla contributors are not MoCo employees. In addition to working as a major contributor to the Mozilla projects, MoCo also have to function as the Mozilla Corporation, with its own management structure, budgets, operational issues, employment issues, space and office issues, etc.

    I think we all need to have more Mozilla contributor gatherings and I will be working with MoCo employees, employees of other Mozilla contributing companies, and contributing volunteers to try to make more of them happen, but inviting the Mozilla community to a MoCo employee meeting wouldn’t make up for the shortage of those gatherings in a meaningful way and would probably make it much more difficult for MoCo to deal with itself.

    - A

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