The next market for Firefox

There’s been a decent amount of press about Firefox marketshare recently; from the announcement of 50 Million (now approaching 55 Mil), to making some gains against IE. There’s also been some speculation of Firefox acceptance rates dropping as it saturates it potential market. I’m going on the record to say that’s not really the case. Some of the best times are just ahead.

Paul Festa makes it sound like Firefox is at its end.

The slackening of Firefox’s growth could mean that the browser has converted a substantial proportion of its natural constituency, thought to be early adopters and the technically savvy. It could also show that the browser’s widely publicised security flaws have begun to undermine the foundation’s argument that people should switch from IE to be safer.

This has some truth, but a good deal of it is rather baseless speculation. If you broke down the 50 million downloads into groups, the largest would be technically savvy early adopters. The same guys who have/had PDA’s for years, have modern computers, keep their computers spyware free. That’s a very fair assessment. But it’s far from the only market tapped. Thanks to campaigns like SpreadFirefox, a good deal of buzz was made on non-tech publications, and by word of mouth to the less savvy (“get your mom using Firefox”, “tell your school district to switch”). There’s been traction there too, which shouldn’t be ignored. We still are growing technically.

Are security fears what are damaging Firefox download rates? No. It’s the fact that the 1.0 release was way back in November. To compare adoption rates from the first several weeks to the last several weeks is rather silly. No product can keep up the initial spike. It’s normal for a product’s acceptance rate to slow. But does that mean it will keep slowing? Does it mean it can’t speed up again? Does that mean the product is antiquated? Nope.

Product Freshness

Software has a unique ability to ‘update’. Every several months the product gets better, and becomes a new release. These new releases sometimes meet the needs of new customers, for which the prior version was inadequate. They also show current customers that the product is improving, and will continue to meet or exceed their expectations. Not many products can do this. You don’t buy a guitar to find you can download new pickups at no charge to improve it. You don’t buy a car and find the dealer has a new engine you can get installed at no charge. Software has a very unique life cycle.

Just because we aren’t meeting the needs of 100% of the Internet today doesn’t mean we never will. For example, many businesses find Firefox 1.0 hard to deploy to their workstations. This is a significant market share as computers are found in just about every office these days. That’s millions and millions of potential desktops we aren’t targeting. But guess what? Firefox 1.1 has a .msi installer available which is compatible with most corporate deployment methods. This means starting with Firefox 1.1, we will be able to target this audience much better.

Early Adopters and Zealots

We’ve hit a good deal of this now. Most early adopters aka Geeks know about Firefox. A large number of the Google searches for technical content that reach this blog are done using Firefox. That wasn’t the case a year ago.

Will we get the non-geeks? Yea we will, but they are much slower in general. Take the Internet itself as an example. Talk to most geeks and you hear the date they first signed on as early as the 80’s or early 90’s. Talk to non-geeks, and in many cases it’s 2000 or later when they actually did it. Why is that? Because they don’t jump in so quick, they wait for things to mature. Does that mean this market is out of reach? Not at all. It just means we have a young product. As Firefox ages and matures, that audience will hop on board.

Corporate Adoption

Corporate adoption is key to the future of Firefox. IN part it’s because people trust their IT guy (he or she knows more than me). Another large part of it is because people’s online lives are a good part work based. Look at the online usage data recently collected by the Web@Work Study.

Those numbers are rather impressive. That is why the corporate setting is so important to Firefox. People spend hours of personal, and business browsing at work. If they use Firefox at work, and learn its advantages, they are much more likely to use it at home. If we convert IT departments to being Firefox friendly, were really signing up a small army of new users each and every time. The key is to make the IT staff happy and willing to deploy Firefox. A good part of that is support for .msi installers. Another is simply bumping the version to 1.1. Most companies don’t want to consider a 1.0, simply because first releases are always rough. They would prefer to wait until the first update cycle to consider it. This means for many companies, this summer will be the first time to consider Firefox. Those who won’t choose it will hopefully make their reasons known so they can be addressed in the future. This isn’t an overnight process either. Most companies like to spend a few months testing a new program with a few people, then roll out to a department or two for testing. Then when everything is positive roll it out to the entire company. This is a matter of months. So don’t expect to see overnight Firefox 1.1 take over the corporation.

IBM of course just gave a giant endorsement today. IBM support is a major turning point for Firefox. I’d say it’s more monumental than 25 Million downloads. Why? Because it’s turning a lot of heads. IBM is a giant company (over 300,000 employees). IBM provides IT services to many other companies. Needless to say, IBM has quite a bit of respect in the industry. IBM backing Firefox is the equivalent of a great Hollywood director specifically requesting an actor for a part. A legend who recognizes talent. So what impact will this have on Firefox? Well when Firefox 1.1 comes around and IT departments consider deploying it corporate wide, they will remember “IBM did it?. And IBM is the gold standard in IT Departments.

So is Firefox dying or not?

In a word, no, it’s maturing. It’s past the point where people can call it a fad or a trend. During fads and trends growth is unsustainable. As a mature product its growth is respectable and healthy. Firefox is maturing. It’s getting ready to enter new markets, and continue penetrating current markets. Firefox is no longer immature in marketing by advertising itself as the new fad on blogs. It’s now a mature product that can hold its own.

So how will Firefox 1.1 pan out?

It will have a spike in the first few weeks, and drift closer to “normal? download rates, likely a bit faster than 1.0 got into it’s groove. Firefox 1.1 is partially about proving itself as a supported product. And it will do that. Lots of things are addressed in 1.1. It’s also about qualifying in the corporate area. There’s no real counter to see the success directly. That’s a slower process. With a release in July it’s very likely even an aggressive rollout schedule wouldn’t have Firefox tested and on desktops in companies well into the Fall. And that’s assuming they jump on it. Companies aren’t quick. They don’t reflect in the download counter. Some will decide Firefox 1.1 is good, but not quite ready. They will look towards the next release to see if it meets their needs. And so the cycle continues.

Conclusion

Hopefully that makes things a bit more clear. Firefox isn’t dying, or saturating it’s market. It’s maturing. It’s no longer a fad.

One thought on “The next market for Firefox

  1. Nicely said; it’s refreshing to see quality writing on technology “issues” like this. It’s too bad a careful, thoughtful analyis like yours will never end up with the wide distribution and exposure that the soundbites, silly headlines, and yellow journalists get.

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