Can Mozilla right the ship?

By Jon Gold, Network World |  Internet, Firefox, google chrome

According to information from StatCounter, Firefox is in a rut. While the browser has arrested a lengthy, if slow, decline that stretched through 2011 -- and long-term adversary IE has seen a more or less continuous slide since its dominance of the mid-2000s -- Chrome's sharp rise saw it eclipse its older rival late last year. Google's browser nearly doubled its market share in 2011, rising to about 28% by year-end, while Firefox sank from 30% to less than 25% during the same period.

Nor has Mozilla been helped by other recent controversies. The organization fought a protracted public battle to keep the proprietary H.264 mobile video encoding technology off of the Web in favor of an open-source alternative, but was forced to announce that it would concede the point and begin supporting H.264 in mid-March.

A major reason for that capitulation, CTO Brendan Eich implied in a forum post at the time, was that Google's plans to drop H.264 support never materialized.

Additionally, the company stated earlier this month that, as it stands, Microsoft has effectively barred it from developing a functional version of Firefox for Windows RT. The ARM processor variant of Windows 8, Mozilla general counsel Harvey Anderson wrote in an official blog post, will only allow IE to run in the full Windows Classic mode.

"In practice, this means that only Internet Explorer will be able to perform many of the advanced computing functions vital to modern browsers in terms of speed, stability, and security to which users have grown accustomed," he said.

So what's a troubled browser maker to do? According to IDC analyst Al Hilwa, the key is a continued emphasis on openness.

"Firefox has a position to navigate for those who don't want to align with a specific ecosystem or platform and make bargains," he says.

The idea harks back to the days of Firefox's early popularity -- playing the outsider has demonstrably worked for the browser before, so it's not a huge stretch to picture Mozilla as David to the twin Goliaths of Microsoft and Google.

Regardless of how the company is perceived, however, the deficit in available development resources is a major one, Hilwa says. Chrome, specifically, is the result of a "massive" investment by Google, and has made huge strides in HTML5 integration and performance.

"The problem [for Mozilla] is, 'Can they keep the R&D up?'" he says.

Originally published on Network World |  Click here to read the original story.
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