Did Microsoft make Firefox?
This post by Matt Assay discussing how we got to a competitive browser market got me thinking. (Dangerous I know, but bear with me.)
… I suppose the truly intriguing thing is not that we have a competitive market for Web browsers again, but how it happened. Baker told me recently that Firefox is “an anomaly” because it managed to beat back overwhelming Microsoft market share. Can we do it again?
What was the tipping point when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team finally had to start paying attention to Mozilla’s Firefox browser? And when did Google decide that it couldn’t subsist on Firefox’s roadmap and instead had to forge its own browser, Chrome?
My own take on this is it was all Microsoft’s own doing. Think about it. Their browser, Internet Explorer [and more specifically IE6], was locked into the operating system that ran an almost every PC sold. So for Mozilla’s Firefox browser to take more than a 20% market share is pretty staggering. If you use Windows (as certainly a few years ago almost everyone did) you already have a browser on that Windows PC so why go and download another one? It isn’t quite the same for OpenOffice.org or Gimp for example. You are having to make a decision about acquiring an Office Application Suite or an Image Editor; whether you pay for commercial code or use FOSS is your choice. But with the browser, you already have one.
My conclusion to Matt’s question is that it comes down to just how bad IE6 really was. If it had been a half decent browser with acceptable support for the standards it was supposed to support then I don’t think Firefox, and possibly the entire FOSS ecosystem, would be as strong as it is today.
Presumably Microsoft could have patched and updated IE6 during the course of it’s life but they chose not to, and instead stuck to delivering a half-baked, non-compliant browser full of leaks and security holes and proprietary features that lead many unfortunate souls to build sites that only worked with Microsoft’s browser.
I think that it was the web development community that started this movement. Being professionally involved in helping Graphic Designers make websites work across browsers, I know just how BAD IE6 really is when it comes to supporting standards. If it hadn’t been so terrible, or even got fixed, I don’t think the web developer community would have started using Firefox in the numbers that they did and then espousing it’s virtues with quite the same level of gusto.
Of course, as well as being a decent browser, there were many new and innovative ideas and features in Firefox, a huge extension and plug-in library and cross platform support too. But as “most” users of a browser are simply surfing, then if IE wasn’t such a pile of steaming poo in the first place I don’t think many consumers would have been inclined to change at all.
What do you think?