Is Firefox Burning Out?

Category: Browsers

Mozilla Firefox, once the sole reason why Web browsers evolved, is in danger of going extinct, according to the latest statistics from Net Applications and other researchers. A long, steady decline in desktop market share and an inability to gain the favor of mobile users add up to trouble for the venerable alternative to Microsoft Internet Explorer. Let's take a deeper look...

Why is Firefox Usage Declining?

Firefox accounted for just 11.6% of desktop browser installations in February, 2015, according to Net Applications. That’s a steep drop from the 17.24% desktop share that Firefox enjoyed in March, 2014, and far below its peak share of 25.1% in April, 2010. In fact, it’s Firefox’s lowest share since July, 2006, when the successor to Netscape Navigator was less than two years old.

Google Chrome has gained the most from Firefox’s loss, acquiring nearly 8 percentage points of desktop share during the past year. Internet Explorer has remained steady, while Apple Safari dropped about a point.

But Apple Safari overtook Firefox to become the third most used browser when mobile platforms are added to desktops. Firefox’s total user share (desktop plus mobile) fell below 10% for the first time, according to Computerworld’s measurements, and is down 3.4 points since July, 2014, to 9.5%.
Firefox Burning Out?

Firefox’s mobile market share was less than 0.7% in February, putting it in dead last place far behind Internet Explorer. The problem is that Firefox doesn’t have a platform to call its own and dominate. Microsoft has Windows; Apple has iOS; Google has Android. Mozilla has rolled out a mobile Firefox OS but it’s hardly even noticed. Firefox, like Opera, just doesn’t have a significant mobile niche.

"I'm Not Dead Yet!"

There are at least four firms that monitor web browser market share, and they all have different ways of measuring usage. Along with NetApplications, the numbers from StatCounter, W3Counter and WikiMedia can be found in summary form. It appears that NetApplications grossly overestimates IE usage, but the recent trend lines for Firefox are all similar.

Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox VP, Jonathan Nightingale, argued in January that Firefox has “fierce momentum” and that downloads of the browser in January were “the best in years” but those numbers apparently haven’t made it from the press release to the researchers yet. Mozilla CEO Chris Beard says the foundation remains committed to Firefox, and is “exploring how we can integrate client software on desktops and mobile with cloud service approaches to evolve what Firefox can do for people.”

It would be a shame if Firefox disappeared. If not for Firefox and its dedicated open-source developers, we might all be stuck in a mid-2000s time warp ruled by Microsoft. Internet Explorer crushed Firefox’s predecessor, Netscape, by 2002, achieving 96% market share. Innovation stagnated in the absence of competition; only one major upgrade of IE was issued during the next two years. But when Firefox appeared in November, 2004, the browser wars resumed and progress was made rapidly.

Oh, and Netscape still survives, garnering around 0.25% market share in Net Applications’ surveys. Netscape is a division of AOL now, so the browser is probably optimized for dial-up connections.

Should You Switch?

Admitttedly, I'm not the typical home user. I run all three browsers, for various reasons, but most of my daily work is done in Chrome. As I mentioned in my recent article on the FREAK Vulnerability, I do think it's better to use a browser that's not tightly bound to the operating system. (Those include Internet Explorer on Windows, Safari on Mac/iOS, and the stock browser on Android devices.)

I'm not saying that anyone should stop using Firefox, or that it's inferior to any of the others. Notably, Firefox was immune to the recent FREAK vulnerability. I actually hope it stays around, because history has shown that competition breeds innovation. The problem seems to be marketing, and a lack of product differentiation. Sometimes I'm running both Chrome and Firefox on the same computer, and I can't easily tell which is which.

Firefox had better start "evolving" soon or they'll be joining BetaMax and Blackberry on the list of cool technologies that didn't survive the competition. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is Firefox Burning Out?"

(See all 98 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

13 Mar 2015

Does FF make a browser for the iPad? I haven't found one in iTunes.
Chrome has issues with dropping the keyboard about 6 times before it will stay up to allow one to type. It also crashes a heck of a lot. With Safari if I'm logged onto a forum and switch to another tab, I gave to log on again. If I go back to the first tab, I have tog on again. So I don't use Safari if I can avoid it.
I'm about to try Opera.....
Oh, I'm using an iPad 2 and iOS 8.2 (boy, was that upgrade a mistake!)

Posted by:

13 Mar 2015

I have to use IE for some sites and have no quarrel with it. Chrome had become my main browser but I went back to Firefox when Chrome became painfully slow to load and unreliable. I'll stick with Firefox which is quick and reliable.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2015

I still use Firefox, but not as my primary browser. Chrome can be irritating at times, and it does not seem to perform as quickly or seamlessly as Firefox BUT strange Chinese characters don't sporadically appear at the top of the browser as they do in Firefox!

After the last 2 Firefox updates, quite a few people (myself included) have complained that Chinese characters run across the top of the screen. It has supposedly been traced to the McAfee extension in Firefox. But what gives with that? It doesn't make one feel more secure and in fact is downright uncomfortable.

I'm sad because I used to LOVE Firefox. It was "safe" and then all the updates started until it seems like every two weeks there is another version.

Never even considered IE. There's something about it that makes me just not feel secure due to its past history.

Posted by:

Robert Kemper
13 Mar 2015

I'm using Google Chrome, but would hate to see FireFox fold.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
13 Mar 2015

To say that Brendon Eich was NOT forced out at Firefox is a serious rewriting of the history of that occurrence. He was in fact forced out and the willingness of Mozilla to bow to pressure by a very vocal and extremely aggressive, constantly aggrieved tiny minority was plenty of reason for me to stop using their product.

Take a look at the dates when Firefox's decline started accelerating and you will find there are many people who have voted with their feet. A lot of people may be afraid to antagonize the Politically Correct far left but they will quietly and many times permanently abandon those organizations that allow themselves to be used by the real 1%.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
13 Mar 2015

I would add that their refusal to continue to develop for Apple OSX and to build an iOS version also does not help their market share.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
13 Mar 2015

I would add that their refusal to continue to develop for Apple OSX and to build an iOS version also does not help their market share.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2015

Firefox is my preferred browser. I never use IE and use Chrome only for a couple of games. Google feels too intrusive.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2015

Having the World Wide Web had changed the Internet forever. I had been using Archie and a slew of Archie's friends. Gopher and ftp were my preferred Internet apps.

I have used many browsers over last two decades of the World Wide Web. At the very beginning was Mosaic. Then Netscape came out, but it was not free. Then IE came out, it was a derivative of Mosaic, and it was free. When Opera came out, they charged, but it was fast. When Firefox came out, since I really preferred Netscape, it was a natural progression to Firefox. I used Firefox since it was released. I mainly use Chrome now, but I don't like that it is 32 bit, so somethings don't work well on Chrome. Is that ever going to be fixed? The one thing that essentially broke me from Firefox is that due to some copyright and other issues with Mozilla is that there wasn't a Firefox for the Raspberry Pi. Ice Weasel, I really like the name play on Firefox, was the solution, but it is essentially Firefox. Since Chrome is the one truly multiplatform browser, it not only runs under Windows, but on the Apple side, on OS X and iOS and on several Linux distros, Chrome is the better solution for me. It took me a while to get used to the omnibox, but it turns out to be the best feature. Others have followed suit. To me the Raspberry Pi issues killed my enthusiasm for Firefox.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Chrome is available in 64-bit version now.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2015

What I hate is all of the major browsers are forcing those absolutely hateful "Tabs" on us. Since they cannot be disabled on Firefox, Chrome or IE 11, I am stuck using IE 10. We should, at the very least, have the option of disabling them.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2015

I generally use Chromium instead of Firefox simply because there are one or two minor differences which I prefer. However, the Tor Project uses FF and I have no problem with that at all. It really is sad to see FF losing market share. I have tried many different browsers and FF is my second favorite, even though Chromium is getting slower (are they starting to follow Google in their design?).

Also, to follow a previous comment, for an all-in-one suite Sea Monkey is pretty good.I think it would be more popular if more people were aware of the FOSS community and the great software that is available as alternatives to the big names.

Posted by:

Charles Snyder
14 Mar 2015

I use Firefox and Google and like both. Firefox has really neat add-ons. I would hate to see it go.
It seems slow at times, however. I have recently tried Maxthon and I am happy with it. Has neat built in apps like resource sniffer and image capture. I recommend it for a basic fast browser. I still use the others for different reasons.
Thank you

Posted by:

Beverly Chapin
14 Mar 2015

I started with Netscape when didn't even know what a "browser" was for, then tried IE - never liked either. Found Firefox and have used it ever since. Recently had recurring problem shutting FF down so tried Opera (not impressed and missed many things of Firefox), then tried Chrome. Chrome repeatedly crashed my system, even after uninstalling and then doing fresh install from new download. Still crashed - went back to FF. Same annoying problem even with reinstall of FF but otherwise it worked fine right up until Windows XP went into continual reboot! Removed hard drive to HD dock & copied all my files to external HD, ran extra virus checks & MalwareBytes checks - no problems. Discolored area on face of HD makes us suspect a surge even tho it's only used on APC Back-UPS. May be time to replace the APC unit.

Updated FF on my laptop and it is running fine. About to break in new machine with Win8 preinstalled and FF, AVG Internet Security & MalwareBytes will quickly be added. Don't change what works! Going to update old machine with new HD and reinstall XP to run in-house for music & other old programs.

Posted by:

15 Mar 2015

Just getting to your newsletter and as usual find it very interesting. I have used FF since it's beginning. The ability to install extensions to customize my browsing experience was one of the best features. I do use Pale Moon once in a while if I'm having trouble with a certain web page on FF. In the last 6 months or so FF has been crashing on me a fair bit. I send the crash reports to them in the hope they can figure out what's going on. I'm not interested in any other browser and hope they can pull up their bootstraps and get back on top.

Thanks for all you do.

Posted by:

15 Mar 2015

@ ST channing 12/03

I would like to thank you for taking the trouble to let me know of the existence of 'Xmarks' as an independent platform/browser. I will research this for my needs.

Posted by:

16 Mar 2015

I use Firefox almost exclusively. I live in a rural area where full time internet is not available - I know, I know, but there are still areas in the US where is is true, and south GA is one of them. I use a Verizon 'hot spot.' I've upgraded to 10gbs, and still go over that some months. In some instances I have to print things to be able to read them. Maybe it's me doing something wrong, but I have not been able to 'select' parts of a blog, or other articles to print - it simply won't print. It may print the entire article, but I don't want to print 25 pages when I only want a small bit of it. Firefox allows me to select a section and print it, Google won't.

Posted by:

16 Mar 2015

I stopped using Mozilla /Firefox when the board of directors forced out the CEO for having given a donation for an old friend running for office several years prior! I simply will not support ANY company that takes political revenge on its people. Uninstalled from all my computers and every computer I work on ever since.

Posted by:

17 Mar 2015

Firefox with DuckDuckGo is the only way... I just get that uneasy feeling of what's Google really want from me when I use Chrome...

Posted by:

Bob's Older and more handsome brother!
25 Mar 2015

This will make you think twice about Chrome.

Posted by:

11 Apr 2015

The desktop browser has never gone away. But Mozilla became caught up in so much turmoil over internal bickering and fragmenting into projects that never appeared fully engaged that they totally lost track of Firefox desktop user group. The first nail in the coffin was a frequent upgrade schedule that kept breaking extensions. This was totally a misstep for Firefox because it totally alienated probably the most loyal users of Firefox. When users end up installing Chrome or even using IE instead of Firefox. That's a problem and a potential convert to another browser. I doubt IE swayed many Firefox users, but no doubt Chrome with some very good extension support has. I do not use extensions myself, but Firefox totally feels less of a browser then Chrome in daily use. Every time I have tried Firefox I fail to see much worth in using it over Chrome. The numbers say Firefox is a niche browser and it really is unfortunate Mozilla has messed up a good thing.

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