The Firefox Dilemma
  • Tawhid Hannan
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    With the news about Edge switching to a foundation using Chromium a lot of the conversation has centered on browser engines slipping into something of a monoculture. I believe these fears are coming from a good place - a monoculture certainly is not desirable, and a persistent challenge from competitors keeps tech at its best. Compounding this news was also a link floating around stating that Mozilla Firefox was staring at a market share of below 9%. What gives me pause, however, is that much of the advocacy for Firefox1 seems to stem from the fact that it's not Chrome. The pure logic of such a strategy is clear, but is it particularly convincing as a technique?

    Speaking more broadly for a moment, we as a society apply a lot of pressure on people to do stuff - to save the planet, and make the world a better place, and all the rest of it. Much of it is advocated through what I would describe as almost 'fear-based' language - kind of "do x or y will happen" type scenarios. To be fair, much of it is set up that way. There's no real selfish benefit to e.g recycling, its pretty much about the altruism. In fact, if you read the news, the stakes are pretty high it would seem. For me, the conversation around Firefox strays too close to these heavy ultimatums. I think this kind of conversation is naturally fatiguing, and creates a particularly negative means of ushering new users into the platform - almost as hostages, rather than excited participants.

    It's time we analyse what Firefox does better than Chrome, and sing those praises. For instance, it's arguably easier to avoid tracking with Firefox if that's your speed. I'm sure there are other things - does Firefox beat Chrome out for speed? Or is it better featured in some areas? Perhaps Firefox is lacking things; I've been using WebSockets a lot recently, and Chrome's frame-by-frame view of a WebSocket connection is invaluable. As far as I'm aware, Firefox doesn't have this (yet). These aren't concrete suggestions, but maybe ideas of where the conversation can go.

    I think about Chrome's usurping of Internet Explorer (IE), and I wonder (antitrust and all aside) would Chrome have usurped IE if it wasn't for IE stagnating? I remember when I was younger and jumped ship to Chrome - personally, it wasn't about using Chrome because it wasn't IE, it was about Chrome beating IE in a foot race and offering me a clean user experience.

    Firefox is a fantastic browser, and the need to grow its market share is more pressing than ever. By making people excited to use Firefox rather than wary of using Chrome, I believe we can more effectively galvanise support for Firefox, and improve the health of the browser 'market' all round.


    By which I mean more the tech communities advocacy for Firefox, rather than Firefox's own marketing. Thanks to manishearth for making the ambiguity clear to me.