Firefox May Already Be Dead

UPDATE: Because this post generated a fair amount of controversy, and more than a few readers demanded an explanation, Keir Thomas has written a follow-up further explaining why he thinks Firefox has jumped the shark.

This is an exciting time for Web browsers. Google Chrome is now available in alpha for Linux, and I downloaded it for Ubuntu. Despite the fact that I was running it on my rather underpowered Dell Mini 9, it started in the blink of an eye. Additionally, any JavaScript-heavy sites like Gmail or Google Docs were so responsive that it's almost unbelievable.

Does that sound familiar? That's right. It's just like how Firefox used to be.

Run Chrome and Firefox side-by-side, and Firefox is embarrassingly slow. It's not even in the same league. It's an old man on the running track trying to compete against a sprightly 20-year-old.

I think Firefox has lost the plot. This is a British phrase, and I'm not sure it's used widely in the US, so perhaps it requires some explanation. But it's not hard to work out. It implies a blind dedication to something questionable. If a car owner becomes obsessed with tricking out his vehicle, to the extent of wiping out his kids' college fund to raise the cash, then he might be described as losing the plot. Yeah, he's admirably determined, and the car does look very cool. But he's lost all concept of what's actually important.

Mozilla have several grand aims, and there's much to be admired, but they've forgotten how to make a decent browser. I feel plenty of loyalty for them, because they've done more than anybody else to further the cause of open source software in the real world. But when I tried Chrome, as incomplete as it was, I realized I'd found a replacement for Firefox. As soon as it gets to beta under Linux, I will switch to Chrome. No question. It's just infinitely better. It's like when we all switched from Alta Vista (or Yahoo!) to Google back in the early noughties. The king is dead! Long live the king!

One thing is certain: Firefox is no longer the darling of the Internet digerati. Take a look at the comments on this Slashdot thread. There's a surprising amount of vitriol out there nowadays.

I'm just one guy, so why should Mozilla care? Why should they even care if a million people stop using their browser? After all, this is open source, and open source software is technology driven. That's why it's better than proprietary software. There's no pressing need to keep users sweet.

The problem for Mozilla is that its income comes from end-users. Every time you search using Firefox's built-in search, Mozilla gets a small cut. Multiply that by millions of searches every day and it adds up. Effectively, Google pays for Mozilla's continued existence, but without any of us using Firefox, Mozilla is up a creek without a paddle.

I fear that the Firefox project is a juggernaut that can't stop. It's got too much momentum and is determined to head in the direction it has chosen. In short, I honestly think it's too late. Despite the fact it's not really ready for human consumption, Chrome has won. Firefox is already dead. The only way the situation can be altered is for Mozilla to slam on the brakes, lean out of the window of the truck, apologize for going the wrong way, and turn around. But that's unimaginable.

You might disagree with me. But will you do me a favor? In two or three years time, when you're using Chrome (or maybe a forked project), will you come back here and admit I was right?

Keir Thomas is the award-winning author of several books on Ubuntu, including Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference.

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