Web & communication software

Firefox Falls Further Behind in Browser Wars

Linux user, how many different Internet browsers do you have on your system? You have Konqueror if you use KDE, Iceweasel or Epiphany if you use GNOME, and optionally, you might have Firefox, Chrome or Opera. You might have all of those.

You need so many browsers because none of them is perfect. And, Chrome comes closer to perfection than Firefox does. Since Google released the Chrome browser, Linux users have converted to it by the hundreds of thousands. Although Firefox claims millions of downloads, you can bet that its usage is not close to the number of downloads.

Maybe you’ve seen stories declaring, as Keir Thomas did on this blog last year, that Firefox is dead while Chrome looks increasingly like a better choice. But why is Firefox taking all this abuse? In short, because its alleged strengths are its greatest weaknesses.

Firefox fans tout the browser’s use of extensions, or add-ons, as one of its many boastworthy features, but if you’ve ever connected to a site that uses some new Web feature that Firefox doesn’t support, you’re out of luck. Those same extensions often break other extensions on the way in during installation.

Further, why should a user constantly download and install extensions for such common Web gadgetry as Flash or PDF? Why aren’t those extensions included by default if their inclusion is necessary for a rich Web experience?

How often has Firefox notified you at startup that there are updates for one or more of your extensions that result in no updates, or that upon updating, you'll have to restart your browser only to find that the extension update broke your browser. This exercise is time-consuming and tedious. It’s almost as bad as patching and rebooting a Windows system. You find that simply opening your browser to check stock prices becomes so involved that you forget why you originally opened it.

But Firefox extensions aren’t the only problem. Firefox is also so notoriously slow that on older systems, it’s almost unusable or it takes so long to open that you find yourself clicking the icon multiple times, thinking that your original launch didn’t take for some reason.

Chrome, however, is usable and responsive. Now you understand why Firefox might not survive the browser wars. Its extension model is annoying to use, it’s slow on older systems, it’s slower than Chrome on any system, and its extensions break other extensions.

Firefox also has a problem with installation on some systems. Unless your distribution has a Firefox package that you can install via your system’s software installation application--such as yum, apt, or YaST--you might want to opt for something a little easier, like Chrome. It’s easier to install Internet Explorer on some Linux systems than it is to install Firefox. You can install Internet Explorer on Linux using IEs4Linux. Why you’d want to it is beyond all that is righteous, but you can do it.

But Thomas' analyses notwithstanding, there is one glaringly positive aspect of Firefox: It works better on Windows than Internet Explorer does. But that isn't much of a victory, since Chrome works better everywhere.

So, what's so great about Chrome? It's just another browser, after all. It is a browser but it's brought to you by Google, the world's best developers, and by dozens of other open source projects such as zlib, webkit, tlslite, ICU, libpng, and iStumbler. Chrome integrates with Google's other offerings: Gmail, Google Apps, Google Calendar, Picasa, Reader, and Blogger, to name a few.

When Google threw its hat into the browser ring, you knew that it had something excellent in mind for the world's Web users. Chrome is now the browser to beat. It might not have the lion's share of the browser market now, but wait two years and it will.

Microsoft and Mozilla will wonder what happened to their stranglehold on Web browsing. You might think that Google aspires to become the next Microsoft by its apparent lust for world domination. That might be true, but at least it will be an open source takeover.

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