January 20, 2005


The Gnat Nipping At Microsoft: Mozilla may be a tiny nonprofit, but its Firefox browser is grabbing market share (Steve Hamm, 1/24/05, Business Week)

[T]he Mozilla Foundation is pulling off a feat that would have seemed preposterous a year ago: It's taking share from Microsoft in the market for Internet browsing. According to a survey released on Jan. 12 by Web site analytics firm WebSideStory Inc., Mozilla's free Firefox browser has grabbed a 4.6% share over the past six months and seems well on the way to its stated goal of 10%. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has slipped 4.9 percentage points, to 90.6%, the lowest in three years. "It's an emotional number. When Microsoft drops to 90%, it's big news," says Jeffrey W. Lunsford, chairman of WebSideStory.

Microsoft is hardly on the run. It has an overwhelming lead, and most corporations have adopted Internet Explorer for their employees -- so it should have staying power. But many of the 16 million consumers who have switched to Firefox see the upstart program as safer from viruses and packed with innovations. Those include a feature called "tabbed browsing" that makes it easier to move quickly from one Web site to another, in part, by firing up a series of favorite sites all at once. But Microsoft has been working hard to clamp down on security and vows to make other improvements. "These features, along with Microsoft's world-class customer support, continue to make IE a compelling choice," says a Microsoft spokesman.

Still, analysts say Firefox could have an outsize impact on the future of the Net. If Mozilla and the other non-Microsoft browser outfits hold their own or gain share, the 15% of Web sites that aren't completely compatible with non-Microsoft browsers will come under pressure to design their sites to open Net standards. That way, Microsoft won't be able to control how content is presented on the Web. It would also create opportunities for competitors to sell rival Net software -- since Microsoft wouldn't be able to take advantage of the links between IE and other Microsoft programs. "We're not out to get Microsoft," says Mozilla Foundation President Mitchell Baker. "Our goal is to offer people a better experience so the Web remains open and people actually have a choice."

The Mozilla team isn't stopping with browsers. It has been hard at work on other kinds of software in recent months. An e-mail program called Thunderbird was released in mid-December and has since been downloaded by more than 2 million consumers. The group has a handful of other programs on the drawing board, including an electronic calendar called Sunbird and a small browser for use in cell phones and personal digital assistants, code-named Minimo. These are expected to be released in 2005 or 2006.

Given that the browser, e-mail, and a word processing/spreadsheet program are all most folks really need, Microsoft will have to resort to its usual criminal methods to stop Mozilla.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 20, 2005 9:49 AM

After Microsoft beat Netscape they transferred their chinese hoard of programmers to other projects and basically shut down all further development on IE. This is why 4 years later IE still does not have a W3 compliant CSS implementation, and why critical bugs go often unacknowledged and unfixed for a year or more.

Posted by: Gideon at January 20, 2005 10:10 AM

Yeah, the Dark Empire is pulling a briar patch ploy here but people are too obsessed with revenge to see it. Hmmm, that sounds awfully familiar… is there some well known politician who does this to his opponents over and over because they're suffering from a derangement syndrome?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 20, 2005 11:46 AM

As an aside, Sitemeter now indicates that 15% of BrothersJudd visitors are using FireFox (the percentage varies throughtout the day from a low of about 15% to a high of around 25%), and only 73% IE useage.

Posted by: jd watson at January 20, 2005 12:12 PM


Who doubts that Gates will do whatever he can to stop them?

Posted by: oj at January 20, 2005 12:20 PM

Tweaking its page layout software to go buggy when viewed by non-IE browsers would be one covert way to fight Mozilla/Firefox (and which was a major problem for Netscape during the v3.0/4.0 browser battles), while getting/paying more major companies to engage actions that require Active X software on their web sites would be another, though supposedly Netscape 8 will have an IE simulation mode to handle that problem (I'm asuming Firefox v2.0 could then do the same thing, since they're operating on the same framework, though of course it would have to be an emulation that browser uses would be asked though a pop-up notice to agree to, or the entire safety advantage of Firefox would be lost).

Posted by: John at January 20, 2005 3:10 PM

Mr. Judd;

Me. If Gates had wanted to stop them, he wouldn't have disbanded the development team. So your view is that Gates would do anything, except actually work on the product. There is not one strategic attack done by the Dark Empire that didn't also involve huge amounts of internal development resources. If that's not happening (and it's not), then Gates doesn't really care.

The Dark Empire would find it a lot harder to tweak its page layout software because the standards are far more rigorous. Besides, what real corporation uses Microsoft web page layout software?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 20, 2005 5:59 PM

They aren't capable of matching others product developments.

Posted by: oj at January 20, 2005 6:10 PM