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Browser Wars: How Chrome Overtook Firefox for the First Time

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Almost as quickly as November came to a close, news broke from StatCounter indicating Google’s Chrome browser overtook Mozilla Firefox as the second most popular browser worldwide for the first time. Internet Explorer, the incumbent for years still remains king of the pile, but even Microsoft has to be looking at their dropping share as an impending challenge to keep up with Google.

Unlike other browsers in the segment, Chrome appears to be the fastest growing browser of all time globally, rising to an unprecedented 25.69 percent share of usage in just over three years. Delving deeper into the numbers, Chrome still falls short of Firefox for usage in North America and Europe, but tops the charts in South American countries, well ahead of Internet Explorer and nearly doubling Firefox usage.

The masses seem to be abandoning Internet Explorer in favor of alternatives. The sinking ship used to be sole property of Microsoft until recently, when it appears a change in strategy sprung a few leaks in Mozilla’s boat as well. Mozilla introduced an accelerated release schedule earlier this year, which saw Firefox go from version 3 to version 8 in less than a year.

As most folks in the industry know, changing anything that quickly is a recipe for disaster, and here’s why:

  • Add-on support sucked: Third-party and often enthusiastic developers made up a group of Mozilla’s hardcore advocates and community members. These are the folks that develop add-ons, extensions and themes for the browser that now have to work overtime to incorporate changes into each new version.
  • IT Administrators couldn’t keep up: Browser share is likely to drop (obviously) if admins don’t have the time to deploy new versions of Firefox to users in their organization. It would be a relatively painless process if deployment was all they did, unfortunately they usually exercise some measure of compatibility testing, bringing me to my next point…
  • Incompatibility with websites and web applications: The bigger tragedy was felt shortly after the first few monthly releases of major version increments, as more and more websites suddenly stopped supporting Firefox. Versioning that used to increment from 3.6.1 to 3.6.2 in one month’s time were now uncharacteristically moving from 4.1 to 5.0. Programs written to support minor increments of a browser and ensure compatibility were blown away by Mozilla’s rapid-fire release schedule.
  • It really ticked people off: One of the major reasons I hadn’t switched to Chrome until recently was because Mozilla Firefox, despite all the blemishes (memory leaks, a big one), was a solid browser that didn’t follow the crowd. Community support was excellent, the rendering of websites was reliable, web applications ran as intended, add-ons were phenomenal, and most importantly, I could trust the product after years of unwavering reliability.

It’s still unclear why Mozilla adopted this strategy. Perhaps they decided they needed to increase the pace and align version numbers with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

To make matters worse for Mozilla, Microsoft has actually made significant improvements to Internet Explorer 9. Unfortunately, the browser version is not bundled with Windows 7, so they are likely challenged with trying to migrate users of their newest operating system.

Only time will tell whether the expected release of Windows 8 in the New Year will put a dent in Chrome’s meteoric rise to fame.


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