Chrome won

Original author: Andreas Gal
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Note: I worked at Mozilla for seven years and was CTO before I left two years ago to start an AI startup.

A week ago, Mozilla published a blog post that emphasized its efforts to make desktop Firefox competitive again. At one time, I closely followed the browser market, but had not studied it for a couple of years. It's time to look at some numbers:

The chart above shows the market share as a percentage of each of the four major browsers over the past six years. This is StatCounter data, and you can bet that the data is distorted in many different ways, but in a global sense, you have to say with confidence that Chrome is taking over the browser market, and everything except Safari is being destroyed.


I tried several different ways to plot a trend line, and an exponential approximation seems to work best. This fits pretty well with theories about the explosive spread of innovation and the slow decline of old technology. If the six-year trend continues, IE should be pretty much dead in two to three years. Firefox feels slightly better, unfortunately, and is heading towards a market share of 2-3%. For IE and Firefox, such low market shares will further accelerate the decline because web developers do not test sites for browsers with a small market share. Having encountered a broken layout, users will switch to other browsers, which will cause an even greater outflow of users. Vicious cycle.

The shares of Chrome and Safari do not match the line of exponential approximation as IE and Firefox do. For Chrome, the reason may be that the market share is so large that Chrome is already short of new users. Some are stuck on older operating systems that do not support Chrome. Safari’s recent growth does not reach the trend, most likely due to a slowdown in the growth of iOS devices.

Desktop Market Share

Studying the previous chart can be misleading, because it combines market shares on desktops and mobile devices. Safari / iOS dominates mobile devices, while desktop Safari has a very small share. In turn, Firefox is essentially not represented on mobile devices. So let's just look at the numbers from desktops. Unfortunately, this graph also does not predict a different fate for IE and Firefox. The overall market for desktops and laptops is growing slowly (most sales are about replacing old PCs, but new users are being added). Despite the expansion of the market, the share of IE and Firefox is steadily declining.

More users?

Eric mentioned in a blog post that Firefox had more users last year. During this period, the relative market share of Firefox declined from 16% to 14.85%. For comparison, the desktop Safari has not changed much. This probably means that Safari's market share is growing along with the (slow) growth of the PC / laptop market. There are two different theories that Eric had in mind when he mentioned the growth in the number of users in the blog post. Maybe he was referring to the increase in the number of installations. People often reinstall the browser on a new computer, which can be called a "new user", but after that often the old computer is no longer used. It is also possible that the total daily audience actually grew due to the growth of the PC / laptop market, despite the deep failure of the relative market share.

From these graphs, it’s pretty obvious that Firefox is going nowhere. This means that the revered Chanterelle will stay with us for many, many years, despite the ever-decreasing market share. This also means, unfortunately, that a U-turn is almost impossible.

With the change of CEO about three years ago, a strategic decision was made that Mozilla would once again focus on Firefox and the desktop market. Until 2014, Mozilla actively invested in the development of a mobile OS to compete with Android: Firefox OS. I started the Firefox OS project and brought it to scale. Although we showed some splash and sold several million devices, but could not keep up with the explosive growth of Android. Many do not understand Mozilla's strategic argument for developing Firefox OS. Mozilla's original mission was to create the web by creating a browser. The mobile market has fundamentally undermined this mission. On mobile devices, the browser is not so important and necessary, and especially a third-party mobile browser. On mobile devices, the browser is a feature of the Facebook and Twitter apps, not a product. To influence the web through mobile devices, Mozilla had to build the entire web stack in its core. The development of mobile browsers (Firefox Android) or browser-like applications (Firefox Focus) is unlikely to meet a significant number of usage scenarios. In both Firefox Android and Firefox Focus, the market share is close to 0%.

The strategic decision of 2014 to return to Firefox, and at the same time return to the desktop, was important for Mozilla. As Eric described in his article, in recent years a lot of excellent technical work has been done with desktop Firefox. Relevant development teams have been expanded, and mobile development efforts have been phased out. Desktop Firefox is technically competitive today with desktop Chrome in many areas, and in someeven superior to him. Unfortunately, the graphs show that all this has no effect on market trends. Browsers are a consumer product. They look almost the same and work almost the same. All browsers work pretty well, and if one of them works a little faster or consumes a little less memory, then this is unlikely to affect users. Even if Eric himself - who heads the Mozilla marketing department - uses Chrome every day, as he mentioned in the first sentence, it is not surprising that almost 65% of desktop users do the same.

What does this mean for the web?

I started the Firefox OS project in 2011, because even then I was convinced of the death of desktops and browsers. Not instant death - now six years have passed and they are still with us - but these are two old technologies that are not influential enough to move on. I don’t think that there will ever be a new browser war in which Firefox or some other competitor will take Chrome’s market share. This is how to introduce a new and improved horse in 2017. We are all already in cars. Some still ride horses, and horses have value, but transport technology has gone ahead.

Does this mean that Google owns the web in the same way that it owns Chrome? Not. Absolutely not. Browsers are what the web looked like in the early decades of the Internet. Smartphones have blown the web, but the web has digested smartphones, so JavaScript, HTTPS, and REST work in the heart of most applications today. The future web will again be completely different. Much will remain, and some of its parts will be destroyed. I left Mozilla because I wondered what the web would look like when it stayed mostly on devices, rather than on desktops and mobile phones. At Silk, we created an IoT platform based on web technologies such as JavaScript, and we do a lot to release information rights by embedding AI in devices instead of sending all the data to the cloud.

So let Google win the browser war, but they didn’t get the web. Returning to the metaphor about horses: Google makes the best horses in the world and they definitely won the races. I just don’t think that the races will continue in the future.

Addendum: Many good comments on the HackerNews thread here . Most of all I like this one: “ Mozilla won the browser war. Firefox lost the next fight. But there are still many battles left, and I hope that Mozilla will enter a new one . " I can not agree.

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