Why Firefox is handicapped in browser race

In the browser wars, content may be the new king. Again.

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Firefox, depending on which stats you believe, seems to be struggling in marketshare. Is Mozilla missing a key weapon in the battle for browser share?

According to the cleverly named traffic counter outfit StatCounter, Google's Chrome browser has long passed Internet Explorer and Firefox as the number one browser in the world, with Chrome now reaching the 33 percent mark (33.81 percent for those watching at home) for browser share.

Let the teeth gnashing begin.

I, too, was grinding the teeth for a bit, looking at these stats and wondering to myself what the #%$^! was going on with Firefox that it was getting its electronic butt handed to it by Chrome.

It's not that I don't like Chrome, but having watched Firefox rise to become one of the flagship apps on Linux and then Windows, I feel a certain affinity for Mozilla's fiery browser.

For me, Firefox and Chrome are pretty equal in footing as far as browser experience goes. They both have rich extension and plug-in choices, render pretty fast, and have decent security features. I know that some will argue one nuance over another in bragging about their browser of choice, and that's fine.

If StatCounter's' stats are accurate (and hang on, we'll get to that), then what might be the reason for such a dramatic rise for Google's browser?

In-house marketing might be one reason. When I visit a Google service lately with Firefox, I now see a little drop-down ad urging me to give Chrome a try for a "better experience." I already have Chrome installed, so I resist the urge, but if other users are clicking through, that's potentially a lot of migration going on.

That's the one advantage Google has over Mozilla: content to showcase. Firefox is a browser for the entire web. But Chrome is a browser for Google's own web services first, then the rest of the web. Google can tweak those services and Chrome to work very smoothly with each other.

This is something that Microsoft sort of has with Bing, Windows Live, and Office 365, but it's not very cohesively packaged yet.

But Mozilla is not in the business of producing content and web apps on this scale, and so it has to compete on the merits of being a better browser for every web site. Google and Microsoft can push their content offerings with commercials, online ads, and little suggestions on their sites to try a "better" browser.

Little by little, this kind of erosion can't be helping Firefox.

That is, of course, if StatCounter is even in the ballpark. NetMarketShare's stats for the same period150&qpnp=13) completely flips the order of browser share around.

By NetMarketShare's reckoning, IE is still in the top spot with 48.95 percent and Firefox still edging out Chrome with 18.27 percent and 17.14 percent, respectively.

This is lesson #4,539,038,636 in why taking any stats as gospel is not a good idea. But even though Firefox is not faring as badly against Chrome according to this second set of statistics, Chrome is still running right in there with Firefox in the marketplace, and the past trend lines do seem to indicate that there could be a switch within the order soon.

Is cross-marketing content and browsers really the key to a browser's success? Or will a browser like Firefox be able to stand on its own merits and capture user attention?

These numbers may not give us an accurate picture, but it's a trend we should watch in the months to come.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog 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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