Mozilla retreating on Linux?

Recent moves away from Linux support invite deeper analysis

It seems that Mozilla is a little reluctant to provide initial support for its upcoming Web Apps Marketplace on the Linux platform.

Apparently, the Mozilla development team is playing a numbers game, and it resisting committing resources getting the Marketplace platform to Linux. Mozilla's Asa Dotzler put it plainly:

"What we need most, I suspect, is available Linux coders, people who know Gnome, Unity, GTK, etc. to do the platform integration work. I don't know who those people are. Looking around the sub-set of community members employed by Mozilla who could help on this, I don't see any available resources or even any resources I would move from their current work to this work."

It's a little hard to argue the numbers, particularly since no matter where you look, the browser share for Linux users seems to run in the low- to mid-single digits. With 95 (or more) percent of browser running on something other than Linux, from a pure numbers viewpoint, it's difficult to dispute.

But I would like to offer some other numbers that might shed some light on what Mozilla's products mean for Linux users.

According to StatOwl, Linux users overwhelmingly still use some version of Firefox. The past six-month average for browser statistics that StatOwl collects is:


(I used StatOwl, by the way, because they were the only data collector where I could quickly filter by operating system.)

Let's be clear on the source, before continuing: in the same time period, StatOwl showed Linux use at decidedly low percentages, with the six-month averages coming in at:


Clearly, loyalty for Firefox is obviously high among Linux users--which I suspect is why there's been so much vocal opposition to Mozilla's plan. But as I said, looking at numbers like these operating system percentages, it's easy to see why Mozilla is reluctant to commit resources.

Now, I know full well the fallacies of relying on browser share numbers, so take all of these numbers with a big grain of salt. But I have to wonder if Mozilla might not be shooting its base support in the foot… or if the supposition that most open source developers are indeed using and coding in Linux is indeed right.

These numbers, unfortunately, don't show what the concentration of developers in Linux-space vs. other operating systems is. But they do show another startling trend that I wonder if Mozilla is aware of.

Take a look at the last 12 months' worth of browser data on the Linux platform. I plugged those numbers into Calc and ran out the trend lines, and was surprised what I found.

I discovered that if the current trends of browser adoption continue, that on Linux, Google's Chrome browser will become the number one browser over Firefox in just six months.

That's a big if, mind you. If you look at that chart I linked to, you can see that back in July of 2011, Safari on Linux seemed poised to overtake Firefox, and it very much did not. So my prediction must be taken with that in mind.

But, even if it's remotely correct and Firefox is indeed slipping among Linux users in favor of Chrome, then it puts Mozilla in an interesting position, depending on whether or not they are aware of this trends and are seeing it from more than just this one source.

If they are aware of this trend, then the move to not support the Web App Marketplace platform on Linux right off the bat may be a prudent (if unfortunate) move for Mozilla. If they are about to cede their dominance on Linux, they may really be seeing a decrease in Linux developers willing to work on Mozilla projects for Linux.

But, if they are not aware of this trend, then decisions like the one they are making here could accelerate the migration away from Firefox and prevent any real chance for Firefox to recover… even within its traditional user base.

Those might be numbers to which Mozilla should pay attention.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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