Those of us here in the free software community are almost always rooting for new open source products as they debut, but it’s not often that we are as completely and thoroughly gratified as we were last week upon the launch of Firefox 4.
With headlines like “Firefox 4 thumps IE9 in first day download contest” and “Why Firefox 4 is winning the browser battle,” it was hard to refrain from simply grinning continuously.
Linux Girl spent the majority of the week down at the blogosphere’s Punchy Penguin bar, where FOSS fans took no pains to contain their exuberance — or their perspectives on what Microsoft did wrong. In the interests of posterity, she took it upon herself to record some of the conversational highlights.
‘This Comes as Little Surprise’
“I’ve been running Firefox 4 since b12, when they turned on acceleration for Linux, so this comes as little surprise to me,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza offered. “On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether IE9’s new security features will be worth a slight reduction in speed.
“As a Linux and Windows XP user, it’s fairly irrelevant to me; as an aficionado of numerous Firefox extensions, it is even more so,” Espinoza concluded.
Indeed, it was “probably a bit of a hollow victory because Microsoft chose not to support XP for IE9, and that throws away large numbers,” Slashdot blogger yagu pointed out. “I think it’s a stupid move on Microsoft’s part, but they’re trying to establish the gentle nudge to all to move to their new flagship, Windows 7.”
‘If Microsoft Is a Loser, They Earned It’
Microsoft’s problem with Internet Explorer “continues to be a mashup of earlier mistakes,” yagu opined. “Amazing with all that Microsoft still commands the share they do.”
In IE’s early days, “Microsoft chose to embrace and extinguish HTML standards,” he noted. “With MS clout they snagged huge market share and forced everyone’s hand to develop to MS’s flavor of browser.”
As standards became more important and other browsers became bigger players, however, “IE6 fell out of favor because it was too hard to work with,” yagu recalled.
Newer IEs subsequently introduced more compatibility “as Microsoft struggled to regain street cred,” yagu continued. “At the same time, Microsoft ticked off a large audience of developers now stuck and tethered to the old standard. Microsoft has left a wake of dazed and confused developers and users while other ‘brands’ have stayed consistent and improved.”
In short, “IE9 could be a great browser,” yagu concluded, but “I couldn’t care less. I have no inclination to even bother kicking its tires. If Microsoft is a big loser, they earned it.”
‘Microsoft Is Past Its Prime’
Firefox 4’s victory is “just another sign that Microsoft is past its prime when it comes to generating excitement,” opined Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site. “For decades users have internalized the ‘upgrading Microsoft products can put you in a world of hurt’ meme: ‘What I’ve got works. Let someone else be the guinea pig.’ Can you blame them?”
Those “still using IE as their main browser” may also “not be all that fussy about keeping their computers up to date,” Hudson suggested.
Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack focused on privacy.
“I love it when Firefox manages to keep things fast, but I wish browsers would compete on privacy controls since both IE and Chrome both lack the ability to whitelist select cookies and delete the rest at browser close,” Mack pointed out.
‘I Ignore IE When It Comes to Testing’
Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, saw plenty to be cheerful about from a developer’s perspective.
“I am positively surprised on a number of counts here,” Travers began.
“First, I am pleasantly surprised that IE is progressing as quickly as it is,” he said. “That Microsoft offers a more standards-compliant web browser makes life easier for those of us who build open source web apps.
“I still expect to use Chrome and Firefox side by side for most work, and ignore IE when it comes to testing (since I don’t run Windows), but it’s nice to know I don’t have to write IE support off as quickly,” Travers added. “That Firefox and IE share the same bugs on the ACID 3 test is good.”
‘A Lot More Intuitive’
Travers was also “pleasantly surprised that Firefox 4 is learning from Chrome regarding the UI,” he noted. “I think that the UI changes are quite positive and make the system a lot more intuitive.”
The Firefox button, in fact, “is something Chrome might be able to learn from too, as it took me some time to figure out where to look for what would otherwise be menu items,” he explained.
Chrome, indeed, seemed to be Firefox 4’s primary competition, at least from the perspective of the bloggers Linux Girl heard.
Though he used Firefox for years, for instance, blogger Robert Pogson has now embraced Google’s browser instead. It’s “incredibly fast, deals with almost all sites well, and combined with Google’s Desktop makes a powerful tool for my desktop,” he explained.
“While Google’s Chrome is growing share at 50 percent per annum, those other browsers are losing share at the rate of 10 percent per annum,” Pogson pointed out. “IE is cursed by M$, but Google’s Chrome seems to have the right balance of features for me.”
Similarly, “I’m typing this on FF4 and frankly this weekend I’ll be moving away and saying goodbye to Firefox after many years of loyal usage,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet asserted. “Why? One word: Chromium.”
‘The Look, But Not the Functionality’
Chromium-based browsers — hairyfeet’s favorite is Comodo Dragon — “frankly kick the snot out of FF 4,” he opined. “The Moz team may have ripped off much of the Chrome GUI (no file/edit/view, bookmarks on the right side, etc.), but sadly it is a case of cargo cult usability where they ripped off the look, but not the functionality.”
Firefox, in fact, “seems to have lost its way,” hairyfeet opined. “Instead of being the lightning fast browser you can customize, they keep adding more items like Sync instead of letting the users decide. Meanwhile Chrome just keeps on coming, faster and with better security.”
So, “IE isn’t what is gonna kill FF — IE is dead, and tying IE9 to Vista and above simply made sure it is as good as dead,” he concluded. “No, Chrome will be the one that puts the nail firmly in FF’s coffin.”
A Community Effort
Not everyone shared that opinion, however.
“The open source community has made Firefox a great success,” Travers asserted, “not only through direct code contributions but also (and perhaps more importantly) add-ons like Webdeveloper and Noscript.”
As a result, “Firefox is still one of the most important web browsers on the market from a web app developer’s viewpoint,” he concluded. “The developer share is important and made better due not only to robust developer tools but also solid support for standards.”
Firefox and Chrome have taken a lot of user share from IE, but the day where that really matters is, I think, long past. Microsoft saw the need for a browser integrated with Windows in the early 1990’s and added IE after being snubbed by Netscape as revealed a decade ago during the USA vs Microsoft antitrust litigation. At the time, the financial world was convinced that the browser "war" winner would supplant the OS leader, i.e. Microsoft Windows, and would become the "new Microsoft" in its ability to control the direction of personal computing.
Today, that theory is mostly disproven in that the PC OS is still the only piece of software in the infrastructure that creates any revenue for anyone. The winner in that regard is Windows and Microsoft. No one even talks of a "new Microsoft" any more, it is a settled issue.
The new buzz is over controlling the information content that the PC user (or phone user or pad user) might access and how to tax that access via selling advertising or subscriptions. Microsoft has pretty much lost out in that rapidly maturing market, but it is not about to dry up and blow away in the forseeable future due to anything replacing Windows on the user’s computer.
A lot of people use Firefox or Chrome, but they use it with Windows and that is where Microsoft’s money is made.
Windows XP still has the largest following of any Micro$oft OS with over 50%. Vista has only about 24% and Window 7 has less than 20%. These figures vary slightly depending on which survey you look at. I follow the use on the server I use and these numbers are for over 200 million accesses.
I hope Micro$oft’s strategy to provide IE9 only to Vista and Windows 7 leads to them only garnering about 30% of the Windows market. The world would be a better place without Windows.