Why Firefox is doomed to fail

I’m going to post my thoughts about Firefox, which is most certainly going to ruffle some feathers out there. Firefox has a limited amount of time left before it becomes irrelevant on the web. Once an Internet Explorer killer, it’s unfortunate to see the state that Mozilla’s browser finds itself in now. Here are some of the reasons why I think Firefox won’t last another decade.

Mozilla’s reliance on Google as a revenue source

It’s no secret that Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox, receives about 90% of its revenue from search engine deals. This means the list of available search engines in Firefox from a new install has been paid for. I don’t have a problem with this because other browsers such as Opera and Vivaldi do it as well. 

Google is a huge concern, however. In most western regions, Google is the default search engine in Firefox. Google pays Mozilla a hefty sum for that, but there will come a day when Google won’t need to outbid other search engines for the number 1 spot in what is becoming a niche browser. 

Mozilla has struggled to diversify its revenue in the past. With rumors of a “Premium” Firefox being offered in the future, it’s a sign that they know the Google money is going to dry up sooner than later.

Dwindling market share and mindshare

Since the birth of Google’s Chrome browser, Firefox has seen its market share steadily decline year by year. Just the other day, there was an article mentioning that Firefox had sunk to its lowest level of market share since 2005. Ouch, so what happened?

Browser market share in February 2020

Well, it’s mostly Google pushing Chrome on its sites and services. Things like Google search, YouTube, Google Docs, and Gmail. At some point or another, people have been greeted with a message telling them that they can have a better experience if they use Google’s browser.

Mismanagement and side projects

Unfortunately, Mozilla has been adrift for quite some time, resulting in projects that used up a lot of resources and revenue. 

Mozilla's Firefox OS

One example is Firefox OS, a mobile operating system that was supposed to take off in upcoming mobile markets. It didn’t really gain traction and was a colossal waste of resources. Between iOS and Android, there just doesn’t seem to be room for a third player. Just ask Microsoft.

I remember seeing the announcement when Mozilla bought the Pocket web service and ended up integrating it into Firefox itself. As someone that was with Firefox when it first launched as Phoenix 0.1, this was majorly symbolic of the weird management going on at Mozilla. Firefox was meant to be a lean and efficient web browser, and I think many of its early supporters did not want Pocket integration. Or at least make it an extension that could be disabled.

More effort and fewer resources

Firefox uses its Gecko rendering engine, which was at one point the biggest rival against Microsoft’s stagnant Internet Explorer and the trident engine. Times have changed, and the problem is now the majority of web browsers use either Webkit (Safari for macOS/iOS) or blink (Chrome/Brave/Edge/Vivaldi).

With Microsoft now throwing its weight behind Chromium, that means we have way more manpower and resources devoted to the Chromium base, which helps all the browsers that use it. With the harsh reality that many websites are only testing for WebKit or Chromium-based browsers, Firefox is going to experience more compatibility problems with sites as time goes on.

What needs to happen for Firefox to remain relevant

Firefox is in the position now that I think Apple found itself in before it switched to Intel processors. It had reached the limit of what was possible with PowerPC chips and was being left in the dust by the x86 architecture’s advancements.

Knowing that there was a brighter future ahead if it adopted Intel, Apple ended up making the transition and joining the rest of the industry. This move did wonders for keeping the Mac platform alive.

I’m pretty sure my inbox is going to explode for suggesting this, but the only way I can see Firefox still being around much into the future is to adopt Chromium. With less work being needed to reinvent the wheel, developers can spend more time on privacy or useful features to help the browser stand out. 

By using Chromium, Mozilla can leverage all the work being done by Google and Microsoft, yet still, be in control of its destiny if something happens that it doesn’t like. An example would be Google’s new Manifest v3 changes to extensions that would limit the effectiveness of ad blockers. Mozilla would be able to fork from the Chromium base and make its own customizations to it, thereby preventing Google or Microsoft from really controlling everything.

Some people will argue that Google has a monopoly and that it’s the same situation as with Microsoft and Internet Explorer back in the day. I don’t see it that way, though. For one, Chrome comes from the Chromium project, which is open source and updated frequently. Internet Explorer was never open source and was a Windows-exclusive browser that was tied to operating system updates. 

Honestly, I would be very excited if Firefox adopted Chromium. It would get rid of compatibility problems, and it could position itself as the privacy browser, similar to what the Brave Browser has done, minus the cryptocurrency ad stuff.

What about you?

How do you feel about the current browser wars? Let me know in the comments what you think Mozilla should do to keep Firefox going.

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