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Weblog Entry

Firefox Growth

October 18, 2005

Why has Firefox growth slowed? I received a similar question in my inbox the other day, followed by this tidbit:

Despite all the publicity online and even big-media coverage, I’m still amazed at how many people I meet who have not the faintest idea Firefox exists. Even 20somethings at my office — a dot-com, fer cryin’ out loud. They just don’t know it’s out there.

It’s a good question, but you don’t have to look far to find the answer. Here’s an analogy: I have no idea what the latest and greatest is when it comes to server hardware; I’m in the industry, so maybe I should, but I just don’t care that much because it doesn’t generally affect me.

Last year I predicted that Firefox would have a 25% share of the market. Obviously I was off a touch, as I’d guess the actual numbers are only a bit more than half that at the moment. Still up from where they were when I made the prediction, but I was a bit optimistic. Spreadfirefox.com reports almost a hundred million downloads now, but big picture trends seem to indicate that Firefox has achieved maybe 15% of the market share amongst actual users, give or take 5%.

I figured the ongoing Windows security issues would continue to drive Firefox growth. But Microsoft has continued pushing out security updates, and let’s be honest, PCs are cheap enough to be disposable to a lot of consumers who can’t be bothered to fix them; a new PC with Windows XPSP2 will only run you a few hundred dollars. Beats paying $70 an hour for someone to remove spyware from your old one.

Still, double the market share in a year isn’t bad. 25% may yet be achievable, and if so, it makes Firefox a large enough force that your average non-standards aware web developer can no longer justify coding for IE-only. And that’s a start.

Okay, and since we’re talking web site statistics, I guess I need to clarify: yep, Site X probably does have a higher percentage of Firefox users. Stats vary from site to site; this one sees almost five times the number of Firefox users as it does Internet Explorer users for example. But your audience likely doesn’t represent the global market share, and that’s what we’re talking about here.

On the other hand, if you want to tell me the distribution of browsers coming into your site off search engine queries, that’s a far more interesting number.


October 18, 03h

In addition to the MS fixes, Firefox had a series of vulnerabilities lately, which damage its image.

October 18, 04h

Even with Firefox’s vulnerabilities, I have never personally experienced a problem with Firefox. And I use it at least 10 hours a day. I have seen IE borked in less than 20 minutes of browsing.

But even so, the IE stronghold is largely due to corporate policy. My employer technically doesn’t allow the use of anything but IE on the desktop. And I suspect that most large companies have similar policies. And those policies don’t change quickly.

Jack says:
October 18, 04h

Re: vulnerabilities. Firefox’s only image problem is that people don’t know it’s there. Nobody switches back to IE because they think Firefox is more insecure.

Firefox has got to rely on word-of-mouth to spread and while web standards (and other) evangelists see lots of value in this browser and love to shout it from the rooftops; your average Joe doesn’t. Even if Joe agrees with you that Firefox is better than IE, he’s not going to tell his friends unless he feels the browser is *twice as good* as IE.

Can you honestly say that your family members are having twice as much fun on the internet now that you switched their browser for them?

Ashley says:
October 18, 05h

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I think the initial “cool new toy” period has sort of died down. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say “You should try Firefox instead.”
It’s my opinion that everyone is just complacent with what they’ve got, and for something that spreads by word of mouth that’s obviously not good enough.

5
Ben says:
October 18, 05h

I will say that I go to a local community college, and a year ago or so, they didn’t have Firefox, but today, Firefox is installed by default on every PC on the campus. Now, most people still use IE, but this is a move in the right direction at least.

October 18, 05h

Here are my latest browser numbers from www.quotationspage.com - it’s a very mainstream site that gets mostly search traffic, so it comes closer to representing global market share than most blogs.

IE 68.75%
Firefox 16.53%
Safari 3.44%

Firefox is up from 15% a couple of months ago, but I agree its growth has slowed. Still, 16% is one out of six users - so coding for IE only is out of the question these days, and I thank Firefox for that.

October 18, 05h

At www.fisher-price.com, we’re at about 8% Firefox and about 2% Safari. And we launched our first mostly standards-compliant .NET site at www.fisher-price.com/us/krypto/ last Friday.

Mac IE5 just left our supported browser list today, which is good news for my CSS efforts.

So, we’re not seeing anywhere near the 15% Firefox reported by some, but it’s enough to be noticed now. And Fisher-Price asked us to start supporting Safari a couple weeks ago, which is also good news.

8
Sean says:
October 18, 06h

On the sites I’ve built I’ve noticed a similar cross-section of browsers except for one site, an arts-based information site that lists events and ticketing information has an above average number of Apple users (over 35%) and I have no doubt that it is due to the demographics that make up the average arts patron.

October 18, 07h

It’s very hard to guage what overall percentage of browser use Firefox occupies.

Unfortunately, I think a big chunk of the market out there either does not care or is not willing to switch to an alternate browser. IE7, as crappy as it’s looking, will be the only thing that cuts down on IE6’s market share - Windows Update will make sure of that.

There was only so much of the market that Firefox could ever take from IE. People just don’t care enough to make the switch. Unless users run into security problems they don’t bother to switch, and developer issues like proper CSS support can’t get end users to switch.

We standards-supporters ran with the “IE isn’t secure” banner with ulterior motives - we want people to upgrade to browsers that support CSS3, proper XHTML Strict, etc. But now that Microsoft is beginning to plug the security holes in IE - their users are back to being content with a poor browser.

What Firefox needs is some kind of Killer App extension, or a great new feature that really trounces IE, and tabbed browsing ain’t it.

Maybe Flock - http://www.flock.com can be something of a war-cry, and make IE users “flock” to FireFox.

October 18, 08h

Tough as it may sound, many people use IE because it’s there and it’s what they’re used to. In their mind, it works fine, and they simply do not care enough to switch to anything else.

October 18, 08h

Most people still use IE because they just don’t gain anything from firefox. It’s more secure? It’s faster? It’s more standards compliant? It’s got tabs?

None of that really matters to joe sixpack.

Firefox is delivering a steady 10% of traffic on most of my sites, all of which are geared towards very non-technical people. I see that as a pretty good sign. Couple it with the numbers from Safari and Opera, and good browsers are racking up a whopping 15-20% of the market share.

IE didn’t beat netscape by being a better browser. It beat it by offering largely the same experience – for free. They bundled it with windows, and, viola, nobody had any reason to use netscape.

IE will remain the #1 browser on the market as long as windows has a 90% + stake in the world.

The linux desktop isn’t ready for the casual user yet. I think apple is ripe to do it, personally, but they don’t have much to offer in between the ultra-low end mini ($500) and the ultra high end towers ($3000+) that’ll interest the casual user.

As much as I know that they’ll never actually do it, I wish they’d just release OSX on commodity hardware. What better than a unix-based OS running one of the best desktop environments around and available on, I dunno, AMD processors?

October 18, 09h

> Still, double the market share in a year isn’t
> bad. 25% may yet be achievable, and if so, it
> makes Firefox a large enough force that your
> average non-standards aware web developer can no
> longer justify coding for IE-only. And that’s a
> start.

I think you underestimate the importance of the point you make following this one. Even if Firefox does not have 25% global share, it already has a 70% share at *particular* *sites*. Prior to launch, you cannot know if your site will have 5% Firefox users or 10% or 40%. And if you already collect stats, they’re only meaningful if the site is browser-neutral; it the site is already IE-focussed, then having a negligible amount of Firefox traffic is hardly a surprise. Gearing the site towards IE may still be a mistake in the long hault even if it’s in reaction to reliable stats. Bottom line:

You cannot afford to ignore Firefox. Even today.

13
Paul D says:
October 18, 10h

Aristotle makes a good point. “Global market share” isn’t such an important metric any more. What’s certain is that there are at least 50 million users of Firefox, and 10-20 million Safari users. These people happen to be - on the whole - more discriminating and more computer-savvy than the average Windows/IE user. They are likely to spend more money on software and online services.

So no matter what kind of website you’re developing, aren’t those 70 million people a demographic you’d really like to attract? I would think so.

14
Damian says:
October 19, 01h

I did read that the Netscape browser, which has both rendering engines, had been being pegged as either Firefox or IE at sites previously. And it has been said that this inflated the figures for FF over the past few months, so that the take-up has been more “even” than it seems to have been - not so fast in the recent past but not so slow now.

However, I suspect Dave’s original suggestion is right: tech-savvy Windows users picked up on Firefox pretty quickly, but that’s a limited pool of people to draw on, and the pool may be running a bit dry now.

Incidentally, the Netscape browser will ship on all HP’s machines next year:

http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,,1866506,00.asp

However, I wish Netscape didn’t have the Trident engine built-in to it, because it’s shipping widely preinstalled is, therefore, less of blow against lock-in than it would otherwise be.

But I don’t think the outlook is too bleak. I’d not be surprised to hear that even currently non-IE browsers added together made up 15% or more of the traffic to many mainstream personal-user-orientated sites, as Michael suggests.

I see that at Boing-Boing, visitors using Firefox (38.3%) and Safari (11.4%) add up to nearly *half* the traffic now:

http://www.boingboing.net/stats/

October 19, 03h

Working at a daily newspaper in the UK, I’m still baffled by the problems users bring up when just navigating the site, let alone the OS or browser they are using.

I would say the general understanding of the average PC/Internet users varies wildly from those FF-savvy users to people who - meaning no disrespect - struggle with basic PC functions/Web browsing and wouldn’t know where to start looking for an alternate browser.

So FF’s growth in general still seems a significant event in Web history, and it’s impact is being felt far and wide across the Web development landscape.

Dave says:
October 19, 03h

I think Paul D makes a very interesting point:

>These people happen to be - on the whole - more
>discriminating and more computer-savvy than the
>average Windows/IE user. They are likely to spend
>more money on software and online services.

Now, if there were statistics which proved that relatively speaking, Firefox users spent more money online, companies would surely want to avoid IE only sites.

gloomy says:
October 19, 04h

I think Firefox needs some major new features - they could make add-ons like Sessions Saver, Tab Toggling, Tabbrowser Preferences, IE View and a lot of other cool ones a normal feature of Firefox. Opera already comes with all of those as standard, so that’s maybe why Firefox needs to do some more.

18
Björn says:
October 19, 04h

I don’t know if features will help much. Opera is free now, and has those things you mentioned, and doesn’t hog as much resources as Firefox; but I don’t see Opera becoming popular all of a suddent (unfortunately).

I guess Opera growth is actually slightly related to this topic. Although Opera isn’t ad supported anymore, I don’t think the number of Opera users will increse dramatically. It doesn’t have the momentum Firefox had.

And I really don’t see Firefox picking up much growth either, a small bit here and there, but nothing like the boost it had when v 1.0 was realeased.

Hunox says:
October 19, 05h

Stats from The Counter show FF users are at 8%. I think of The Counter as neutral source of stats, because they gather statistics from tons of websites using their free counter.

http://tinyurl.com/857lo

I think FF stoped growing, because the hype is over. After all FF isn’t that much better than IE for the average joe. AJ doesn’t need all the bells and whistles such as greesemonkey and extensions. All they really want is to check their hotmail and read yahoo news.

ramanan says:
October 19, 05h

Does Firefox come installed by default on Dell or HP boxes? Till this happens, I think their userbase won’t grow much higher than the 15% being discussed above. The fact is that for most people, Internet Explorer is probably good enough. I have tech savvy friends who don’t seem to mind it – which I can’t for the life of me understand. If you install Firefox for someone, I would agree, no one is going to switch back to IE. Even if they never use tabs or any extentions or anything that makes Firefox special, Firefox basically works the same as IE, so why bother going back. The question is, how many people are willing to go out of their way to trade up?

ycc2106 says:
October 19, 07h

I noticed the best way to “convert” a IE user is to show the tab feature…
But the problem is window users(97% from thecounter.com!) don’t have an other preinstalled browser that we could use to show them. And now there’s a tabbed version of IE called Maxthon, is said to use the same engine.

shishira says:
October 19, 08h

But its only OPERA thats able to pass the web acid test http://www.webstandards.org/act/acid2/

Kelson says:
October 19, 09h

ycc2106: Actually, Maxthon has been around for several years. It used to be called MyIE2, and they changed the name sometime last year.

I agree with ramanan and others that, as far as global marketshare is concerned, the biggest obstacle for Firefox is going to be pre-installation. Just look at the rise of Safari on the Mac platform. Admittedly, it was replacing an outdated browser that the vendor had essentially abandoned (Mac IE), but I’m sure a big part of its success has been the fact that it’s preinstalled as the default browser.

With all this talk about marketshare, it’s good to remember that global marketshare isn’t what matters: the marketshare among your current and potential audience that matters. If your site appeals to Mac users, you’d better make it work in Safari. If your site attracts the techie audience, you’d better make it work in Firefox. And like Aristotle points out, you don’t necessarily know what the breakdown is going to be on *your* site until you launch.

I’ve got one site that pulls 17% Firefox, 3% Safari, and another 5% Gecko, Opera, etc. I’ve got another one that pulls 42% Firefox, 12% Opera and only 27% IE. The difference? One is long-established and attracts a mainstream audience. The other is new and attracts people interested in alternative browsers. But even the mainstream one is pulling a more diverse audience than the global stats would suggest.

Kelson says:
October 19, 09h

shishira: No, Opera does not pass Acid2 yet, though development versions are getting close. Internal builds of Safari were first, followed by a public beta of iCab, followed closely by development builds of Konqueror.

Opera Acid2 progress (latest update today):
http://my.opera.com/community/forums/topic.dml?id=91018

Safari announcement (April 27):
http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/hyatt/archives/2005_04.html#008042

Konqueror and iCab announcement (June 7):
http://webstandards.org/buzz/archive/2005_06.html#a000526

October 19, 10h

Opera has definitely taken some market shares. I’m loving it.

Hg80 says:
October 19, 10h

I have managed to switch a few of my non-techie friends over to FF, but only because they had major catastrophes i.e. browser hijackings, viruses, crippling spy-ware etc. I had been preaching to them the joys of FF for years but only after such major events were they able to see the benefits of FF (the fact that I cleaned up their PC’s and installed FF as the default browser may have added to that ;) ). Now, they are believers like you and I; I haven’t had to clean their hard drives since, not once!
The fact of the matter is, although a lot of people have downloaded FF, few use it as their default browser. Average people will continue to tolerate IE, like they have been tolerating Windows until a) something goes horribly wrong or b) have FF pre-installed on their computers.
I can’t express how much I love FF, but I don’t care if it is not more widely accepted. 15% is a fine number, enough to have Webmasters, IT guys and air-headed Web designers sit up and take notice. Average People will have to learn the hard way and then they will be forced to think. I think its better just to let those people know there is an alternative when the time comes and not waste anymore time politics & philosophy.

Meri says:
October 19, 12h

I think that a key issue is that although the initial enthusiasts have converted people, those converts haven’t become converters in turn. The concept of a cool, featureful and safe browser isn’t an easy enough equity for non-techies to sell.

Hell, the other day on the train there was some 40ish businessman telling the colleagues travelling with him that he had a great FIREWALL called Firefox. People just don’t get what it is, or why they should use it.

October 20, 05h

I agree with ramanan. The slow down should be excepted. It matches a typical slowdown in interest for any new software release as time passes. For Firefox to continue to grow above the 15% being discussed, the browser needs to come pre-installed on boxes from major manufactures. Most people do not know what Mozilla Firefox is. They are not interested in taking the time to figure out how to download another browser, when they already have one that they believe meets their needs.

October 20, 06h

Visitors to my site seem pretty constant at 10% Firefox, 8% Safari and 82% IE.
Now that Opera is free it’s obviously a strong competitor for Firefox amongst those that can be bothered - I use Firefox and its plugins when I’m working and Opera for casual browsing. I’m convinced it’s faster than Firefox - probably only marginally, but many seem to agree with me. Anyone seen any figures to prove this?

30
Hernan says:
October 20, 09h

I think that a great amount of FF users are webdesigners, coders, and people who actually is related with tecnologies. I live in South America, and I can tell you that win98 still widely used with IE 5.5. On the other hand, most of the people that I know, they don’t know about FF or Opera. Actually, one of the big problems in here is that nobady pays for software. And a bigger problem is that they don’t even know what is free software.

tarak says:
October 20, 10h

Supporting Meri’s comment on the FIREWALL.

I think we are forgetting about a large group of users who don’t even know what a browser is…yup, the AOL (and similar) group. My mother uses it - she’s 50ish, does all her banking online, chats with me over skype, books all her flights online etc. So she knows how to get around internet. And yet, to her AOL and Internet are one and the same.

There is no way I could get her install FF, because she would object saying “No thanks, I already have AOL, I don’t need any more internet”. … sigh.

October 20, 10h

I remember reading somewhere that Firefox peaked at 8.71% but is now down to only a high 7% (7.7-.8 I can’t remember). I don’t think its a popular as anyone thinks.

33
László Harsányi says:
October 20, 11h

I also think that the pure synthetic statistics about the market share of FF are nothing more than a pee competition in the kindergarten. First of all most of these stats do not specify the base or the sample upon which they are based. Second, new browsers can mislead statistics. With Netscape you can look at the pages with the IE engine - does it recorded as IE too? At Opera the user can choose how the browser identify itself: Mozilla, IE or Opera - and the default is not Opera.
I started to use FF round a year ago, but since the issue of Netscape 8 this is my main browser. The reason is very simple: allowing to use the IE engine it can drive me through the trenches even the most IE-oriented sites, where FF fails.
FF and Opera are roughly at the same speed, while Netscape is slower, but Netscape’s functionality is much better.
IMHO the most important thing is that there are a significant percentage of alternative browsers on the market and as far as I know they are all standard supporters. The cumulative market share must be around 30-40% and that is the important fact what should be emphasized. No developer or designer can afford to make a site what can not be properly presented to every third user.

October 21, 06h

Bruce: you mean something like the Browse Happy info bar?
http://blog.cs.cityu.edu.hk/users/50307104/ie/browse-happy-infobar-revised-2.xhtml

35
Bruce Hampton says:
October 21, 06h

Firefox, IE, Opera…really, as a web developer I don’t care what folks use.

My main concern is that my W3C/CSS standards-compliant pages render the way they’re supposed to.

If you’re the same, does a day go by that you don’t curse Microsoft for their arrogance that has you constantly dumbing down your code to fit that monster IE? The pending release of IE7 with the same afflictions proves that Uncle Billy still doesn’t get it…

Instead of promoting FF (which I preach to all my clients), we’d be better off hammering IE until they get our message.

How? Embarrass the buggers into compliance. If all of us stuck a standarized icon somewhere on our pages–DIE–with an alt or title description (Dumbed-down for IE), maybe Bill would finally get it.

36
Martin says:
October 21, 12h

I switched to Opera because of my old 500mhz laptop. The difference was huge.

37
Aidan Maconachy says:
October 25, 11h

Firefox is awesome. When I used IE I was constantly importing spyware and such. Since I began using Firefox it has ceased to be an issue.

Highly recommend it!

38
AidanMaconachy says:
October 25, 11h

Firefox is awesome. When I used IE I was constantly importing spyware and such. Since I began using Firefox it has ceased to be an issue.

Highly recommend it!