Firefox – Will it die on the vine?

21 01 2010

Firefox is my primary browser and has been since version 1 of the browser. Prior to Firefox I used SeaMonkey/Netscape going all the way back to Navigator 1.11. I’m glad to say that I have never used IE as my primary browser of choice, ever.

However I am concerned that Firefox’s days maybe numbered. Here are few facts.

Microsoft Develop IE
Google Develop Chrome
Apple Develop Safari.

Three major software corporations with lots of resources in terms of money and talented staff and all making money hand over fist. I’m not sure how the Mozilla Project can compete with them long-term, as much as I’d like them to. My argument is not technical nor based on merit or intellectual preference, it is commercial.

Prior to Chrome, Mozilla had the backing of Google as the major competitor to IE. I’m not suggesting that Google have or will abandon their cozy relationship with the Mozilla project, however their attention and resources are now divided, clearly they will try and make their Chrome browser and Chrome/Android OS’s work well.

The real battle IMHO will be between Microsoft/IE and Google-Apple/WebKit. Both Chrome and Safari are built on the WebKit project. WebKit is another open source browser project that is devoted to producing a fast, efficient and standards compliant browser. The iPhone, Palm Pre, Android based and Symbian based phone browsers are also based on WebKit!! (Blackberry is to follow suit soon). Another question to ask ourselves is will Microsoft give up trying to build a standards compliant browser (see their standards score at the foot of this post)? IE8 and IE7 have compatibility issues, many corporations have clung onto IE6 since it works well with their first generation Line Of Business web applications. Will Microsoft adopt WebKit also? Given WebKits pedigree, coming from the Linux community (WebKit originally being based on Konqueror), probably not. On the mobile platform, the argument for MS using WebKit is more compelling since windows mobile is unable to run even a scaled down IE.

The Mozilla Project could adopt the WebKit rendering engine and retire Gecko. Google have proven with Chrome 4 that one can build a WebKit browser that supports extensions. Extensions are the feature that Firefox is very well represented by and a big draw for many Firefox fans including myself. Some may point out that it would take a lot of effort to replace the rendering engine to the point that it is not a practical proposition. The Epihany browser used to use Gecko and now uses Webkit. A switch is possible! The challenge will be to ensure extensions work, which could be a more difficult problem to overcome.

Webkit browsers represent a tiny portion of the browser market which is still dominated by IE and Firefox, however I believe 2010 will be a very interesting year for web browser developments and market shifts. All driven by the fast growing smart phone market.

Replacing Gecko with WebKit maybe just what the doctor ordered for Firefox. Firefox is dead, long live Firefox!!

To check if your current browser is web standards compliant, run the acid3 test.

Firefox 3.5.7 scores 93/100
Firefox 3.6 scores 92/100 (Ooops – getting Worse!!)
Opera 10.10 scores 100/100
IE 8.0.7600  Scores 12/100
Chrome 4.0.266 Scores 100/100

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