Firefox 3.0 released as browser climbs the charts

Use of browser jumping among techies, enterprise

Firefox 3.0 went live Tuesday to big fanfare -- and an early snag with Mozilla's servers -- while behind the scenes the open source browser continues to claw its way up the market-share charts.


View a roundup of all the intriguing new products, including Firefox 3.0, introduced the week of June 16, 2008.


Statistics gathered in the first six months of this year at Network World's Web site show the use of Firefox at 36%, which compares with 28% in the first six months of 2007 (a 29% increase). In June 2005, 19% of surfers to NetworkWorld.com were using Firefox 1.0, then a 7-month-old newcomer to the Web.

Firefox's upward mobility has been at the expense of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which was used by 66% of Network World readers in the first six months of 2007 but only 53% today (a decline of 20%).

Firefox wasn't the only mover: Safari went from 3% in 2007 to 5% in 2008 -- a whopping 67% gain but still not enough market share to battle the big boys.

With Network World catering to a high-tech readership, it is clear, at least in this case, that more savvy Web users are turning to Firefox.

Numbers gathered in a recent report by Forrester Research also show that in the past 12 months corporate use of Firefox has doubled, going from 9% to 18%.

But the Forrester report was quick to point out that Firefox is not significantly cracking the intranet applications market where many older applications were written to take advantage of Active X controls in IE.

Graph of Firefox 3.0 Beta downloads

But as developers move to more standards-based tools, users are likely to find that the need for a corporate standard in terms of browsers could go away.

"It seems when you go to any developers conference these days the machines are Macs and the browser [the developers] are working in is Firefox," says Brian Kotlyar, an associate analyst at the Yankee Group. "Perhaps some of the legacy intranet applications are not there yet, but the future is applications that work in the browser and the apps are going to have to work on every browser."

That has not been the case and is one large reason why Microsoft had corporate users locked in and didn't feel compelled to upgrade Internet Explorer between 2001 (Version 6) and 2007 (Version 7). Version 8 has a Beta 2 slated for August that features many enhancements for IT including easier integration with operating system images and applications compatibility testing tools.

Executives at Mozilla.org, which spearheads Firefox development, say their browser is now more appealing to corporations.

"In informal discussions with IT executives we see lots of interest mainly because of security features," says Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering for Mozilla.org.

Firefox 3.0 comes with a laundry list of new security features including one-click to identify Web site owners, validated connections to prevent eavesdropping, malware protection, Web page forgery protection, new SSL error protection, validation for plug-ins and add-ons, antivirus integration, and better protection against cross-site JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) data leaks.

While the upgrades, which were three years in the making, are extensive, Schroepfer concedes that internal corporate applications will be the last to make the migration away from IE.

The area that Firefox 3.0 does not directly address is mobile, but Schroepfer says beta versions of a mobile Firefox browser will be out by year-end with a final version perhaps a year beyond that. He notes that vendors, such as Nokia with its tablet PCs, have used the Mozilla code to create mobile browser versions and that core technology in Firefox is already suited to a mobile world. The guts of Firefox 3.0 have been rewritten to be faster and use less memory

"We have the best memory usage of any browser on the planet and one of the fastest scripting engines," Schroepfer says. "That is what you need for mobile devices."

Yankee Group's Kotlyar says the mobile pieces will come to all browsers.

"Mobile is crucial for any browser to be relevant in the enterprise," he says.

Kotlyar says the Firefox 3.0 milestone shows that both the open source browser and IE are good choices given that a few years ago people were disappointed Netscape's browser had collapsed and IE was in need of a makeover. "Compared to a few years ago, this is paradise," he said.

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