Mozilla can’t sell Firefox; cries about a "world of tight control from a few companies."

This is regarding John Lilly’s (COO of Mozilla) recent blog entry about something Steve Jobs said at Apple’s WWDC07. During the WWDC keynote, Jobs showed a slide that suggested Apple’s Safari would replace all web browsers expect Microsoft’s.

Why did Jobs think most (or all) of Safari’s market share would come at the expense of Firefox? Well, there’s no way Apple could show a slide without Microsoft (too large an entrenched base because they’re the default). Further, it’s reasonable to assume the bulk of Safari’s market will come from non-Microsoft browser users. After all, these users have already shown the knowledge, desire, and ability to switch. Still, all of them? That’s a bit of a pipe dream, and certainly not realistic.

So I can understand why Lilly would take exception to it. However, his response was important; Mozilla will be judged as much by how they react to this slide than for Apple showing it in the first place. Unfortunately, in my opinion his reaction was as wrong as it could be.

Apple handed Mozilla, on a silver platter and with ribbons and bows, a clear chance to explain why, in their view, that slide will never comes to pass. It’s simply because of how great Firefox is. This was a golden opportunity, and the perfect stage from which to tout all the great things that their user base already knows but many Microsoft browser users may not. Fast. Incredibly customizable. Stable. Open standards. Highly compliant. Secure. Smart and knowledgeable user base. Award winning. Huge base of themes and extensions easily browsed, installed, and managed right from within Firefox. And more. Then, Mozilla could have topped it all off discussing their version 3.0 and what’s in store for the future.

But they didn’t do that. Apparently unable to sell their own product, Lilly’s blog spouted a form of attack and pseudo-FUD that is actually kind of silly. So it starts:

“Every so often though, as inspired as he is, [Steve Jobs] says something that betrays at best a blurry view of the real world, at worst an explicit intent to bring more of the world under directed control from Cupertino, and that happened Monday”

Yes, the leader of the company whose browser is every bit as standards-based and compliant as yours (more so if you consider display of color images) wants the the world “under direct control from Cupertino”. Did Lilly really write that? Apple refuses to join the low-end disposable PC market though it would increase their share considerably. They refuse to license Mac OS X though it would certainly do the same. They recently began dropping DRM from their online music, allowing files to be played on a myriad of non-Apple devices. And yet you’re sure they want the world “under direct control”. Please.

“First, it isn’t really how the world is. The meteoric rise of Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Linux and Firefox, among many other examples, shows that today’s connected world is no longer constrained by the monopolies and duopolies and cartels of yesterday’s distribution — of the publishers, studios, and OS vendors. Hundreds of millions of users, in every language around the world are now making new choices. That Apple doesn’t feel this, even within the familiar reality-distortion-field confines of Moscone Center, illustrates much of the problem.”

Monopoly wasn’t enough, he had to reach into the bag and grab ‘duopoly’? Well, of course he did, otherwise he’d just be talking about Microsoft, wouldn’t he? Did it never occur to Lilly that right now, with over 93 percent of the browser market, Microsoft and Mozilla are the duopoly? I guess duopolies are OK if you’re one of the two.

And thanks for explaining to Jobs how the world is. I’m sure he’ll take the lesson to heart, since his current reign at Apple clearly shows he doesn’t have a clue. In fact, he’s probably got his people looking into “Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Linux and Firefox” right now, having never heard of them.

Seriously, I can’t tell if Lilly believes what he wrote or is simply hoping impressionable 16-23 year olds will panic at the cries of ‘Apple Über Alles’ and run into Firefox’s arms.

Yes, it is a different world, and Jobs knows it well. He knows that the very people who dropped Internet Explorer for Firefox will also drop that if there’s something better. I’ll bet he also knows that cries of a “world of tight control from a few companies” is a lot of hooey when used to describe the entry of yet another browser for Windows.

Mozilla really should have tried selling their product. Maybe they don’t think it can compete? As a big-time Firefox user I disagree, but am impressed with Safari beta on Windows XP so far. It definitely has issues, but is pretty darn good for a product released only five days ago.

Forget the political blog posts, Mozilla. You should work on either selling your product, or improving it, or both.


2 thoughts on “Mozilla can’t sell Firefox; cries about a "world of tight control from a few companies."

  1. Thanks for the comments.

    I stated why I think Safari’s market will come from Firefox: “these users have already shown the knowledge, desire, and ability to switch.”

    As you alluded to, there are tens of millions of users still in IE 6, and even those in IE 7 are probably there because it was an automatic update. The vast majority of these people aren’t going anywhere, so the target market for Safari, Firefox, etc. is the same relatively small subset of users.

    You’re right that Safari reviews are mixed, as are most beta reviews. I have my own review on this site and it’s mixed, too. But the upshot is Safari is nice, and assuming the bugs are quashed will give Firefox a run for its money. We disagree on IE 7, though, I think it was a big disappointment. Better than 6, but that ain’t saying much.

    As for being a duopoly, Lilly is the one who brought it up, apparently to scare everyone, but the fact is with over 93 percent of the market, yes, MS and Mozilla are a duopoly. You can disagree, but I have no idea why. They sure seem to fit the definition of the word to me. I don’t mind so much, and only brought it up because Lilly doesn’t have a problem with a duopoly as long as Mozilla is one of the two companies involved. Apparently this is because they are benevolent, while Apple wants to rule the world. A silly notion.

    I refuse to get scared by the “large corporation” argument. It’s BS. Apple has not shown any propensity to avoid open standards or to incorporate their own proprietary ones, whereas Microsoft’s entire history has shown that that is their primary business plan.

    These kinds of “scare monger” articles are pointless and, frankly, smack of either desperation or at the very least a knee-jerk reaction to a lack of ideas. Mozilla should have flipped Apple the finger and listed all the reasons why Firefox is not planning to give ground to Safari. Instead they painted a picture that I guess is supposed to scare us into avoiding Safari. Aside from being groundless and unconvincing, it was simply a bad approach.

  2. Why is it reasonable to assume the bulk of Safari’s market will come from non-Microsoft browser users? Firefox is gaining market share and of course the bulk of Firefox’s gains come from Internet Explorer, which is the #1 browser and the default choice on Windows. This is the same with Opera, to a lesser extent. And I assume it will be the same with Safari.

    Some IE users are switching to Firefox, Opera, and soon to Safari, because they are dissatisfied with their default Windows browser. Without competition, Microsoft ceased releasing updates to IE, the aging IE6 was not standard compliant, did not offer tabbed browsing, integrated search, web feeds, a pop-up blocker, type-ahead find, extensions, etc. Besides, it was plagued with security problems. Some of these problems have been addressed with the release of IE7 (at last!), proof that alternative browsers provided tough competition for IE.

    There is some rivalry between Opera and Firefox (who ‘invented’ tabbed browing? etc.) but both are gaining market share from IE. Opera is better than Explorer since day one, however Opera Software is a small company, they don’t have the marketing clout to gain a lot of mind or market share. On the other hand Opera users are very dedicated, just like Mac users. The Mozilla Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation, the Foundation has gained a lot of recognition thanks to their community-based approach.

    Where does Safari stand in this big picture? Apple is a well-oiled marketing machine, they can win some market share if the product is any good: fast rendering, standard compliance, relatively secure… Mac users will adopt Safari/Win at work just out of loyalty, if they are forced to use Windows all day long. Opera and Firefox users don’t really need a better browser, they already have one. Some of them will give Safari a chance, though, but I don’t think it will amount to much. Even IE7 is kinda okay-ish, Safari/Windows should be the best web browser by a wide margin to win over these users.

    And this is not the case. The first reviews are mixed, it crashes a lot (well, this is a beta release), it looks out of place on Windows (alien look and feel, font rendering, different keyboard shortcuts, etc.) a bit like Firefox on a Mac. It will take some getting used to. At the moment the support is far from great (Typepad, etc.), fortunately more and more web developers will test their sites on Safari. Of course, there will be security issues, like for any other Windows web browser. All in all Safari/Win is not significantly better than say, Firefox/Win.

    Tens of millions of people are still using IE6 on a daily basis, Opera, Firefox and Safari must target this gigantic pool of users to gain market share. The low hanging fruits are on Windows XP, as they transition to Windows Vista it will be a bit harder to get them to switch. Unless Opera 10/Firefox 3/Safari 3 are significantly better than IE7. Anyway, the competition is heating up, Microsoft will have to work harder going forward. No more slacking.

    I don’t agree that “Microsoft and Mozilla are [a] duopoly,” the web browser scene is really rich. Firefox is a distant second to Explorer, there are other alternatives like Opera and the revived Netscape Navigator 9.0 on Windows/OSX, KDE’s Konqueror 3.5, Apple’s Safari, Camino 1.5, Shiira 2.0, OmniWeb 5.5 on Mac OS X… Their market share may be small but these are modern, standard compliant browsers, based on the Gecko rendering engine, or WebKit (or Opera’s own engine). The goal of the Mozilla Foundation is not world domination, they want to keep the web an open platform, they are committed to interoperability.

    During the first browsers war there was a proprietary duopoly, the old Netscape vs Microsoft. As a result the web was fragmented, some sites were ‘optimised’ for (worked better on) IE or Netscape Navigator. Lilly’s fears are largely unfounded in my opinion, Safari is standard compliant, etc. but two large corporations in control… it brings back bad memories from the 1990’s.

    “Mozilla really should have tried selling their product” yet I agree with John Lilly when he says that Safari won’t replace all web browsers except IE. No one asked for a slide without Microsoft, where does this idea come from? The second graphic should read: “Safari / Other” (for Opera + Firefox + MSIE + whatever), and not “Safari / Internet Explorer.” As is, it looks like Jobs’ big dream is to kill the alternative browsers. I wouldn’t mind if it was Fake Steve Jobs joking at Firefox’s expense (“All your market share belongs to us, puny freetards!”, or something along those lines), but it was the real Steve, or was it? Apple is a great company but sometimes Jobs’ cockiness is annoying, don’t be shocked or surprised when he takes a shot in the nads. 😀

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