According to Spread Firefox the Internet Explorer alternative has been downloaded 200 million times. Which sounds impressive enough, until you factor in the small matter of downloads not being the same thing as actual users?
Yet while Spread Firefox admits as much and reminds us that the 200 million figure includes downloads of version 1.0 and 1.5 (not to mention all the incomplete downloads and repeats) it still insists on making strange claims such as 200 million people seeking Firefox being a huge accomplishment. Did they not just admit that there is no 1:1 ratio of downloads to users and then ignore that completely?
Not that it matters, oh lordy no, what matters to me and I suggest should matter to them is the fact that Firefox only has somewhere between 12.5 and 15 percent market share despite all the media attention, despite being a far safer browser client than Internet Explorer, despite being open source, despite being free, and despite being downloaded 200 million times!
Please do not get me wrong, I am not a Firefox knocker. Far from it, I love the thing. It is my everyday browser client on all my machines, and I would be lost without it. It is because of my passionate regard for this piece of software perfection that I get angry about it making such little real world impact on the web using public. Crowing about 200 million downloads, to an audience of converts, is going to do diddly squat to change matters.
The fact that Microsoft has announced that its new version of Internet Explorer, IE7, will be distributed as part of the automatic Windows Update service matters a whole heck of a lot more. Joe User will be exposed to what is not, it has to be said, a bad browser by any means, and certainly a lot more secure and user friendly than the version it replaces. It will remain free of charge, arguments about paying for the OS being used aside, and the distribution method will most likely see it challenge or surpass the Firefox total download figures in a matter of months, if not weeks.
Yes, initiatives such as the newly announced deal with Real Networks that sees Firefox offered as an alternative browser client to people when they install Real, RealArcade or Rhapsody software will help. But even using their own figures, Real Networks only sees a couple of million downloads of its software every month, and you would need the vast majority of them to make the switch away from Internet Explorer in order to create any great market share dent. Yes, buttons, banners and links all help as well, as does the constant word of mouth effect. Again, this has been the case since the get go and still the 15 percent boundary cannot be broken.
Unless you are in Finland, where the Firefox share stands at a much more respectable 37 percent. This has less to do with Mozilla marketing and much more to do with matters cultural methinks, as the Fins seem much more open to open source as a concept than pretty much anywhere I know.
So perhaps the real question should be not where is Firefox going wrong, but what can be done to change the public perception of there being no such thing as a free lunch, a perception that continues to plague the open source movement…