Is Firefox Past its Prime?

A few weeks ago, in a post about why Google+ is going to succeed, I noted that Google Chrome has been on an upward trend of about .5–1% per month since it launched nearly two years ago.

While I didn’t mention it at the time, Firefox has an interesting usage graph as well. If you follow that link, you’ll see that Firefox’s curve hovered a little over 30% for the tail end of 2009 and the better part of 2010, but has started to drop over the past twelve months.

If these trends continue, Chrome will be more popular than Firefox by the end of next year.

What does this mean for everyone’s favourite open-source browser?

From Phoenix to Providence.

Back around 2003, the ‘net was desperate for something new. Sure there were other browsers around, but nobody could hold a candle to the market-dominating behemoth that was Internet Explorer (source). Innovation was non-existent, and the web as we knew it was suffocating.

Enter Mozilla. The release of Firefox 1.0 in 2004 was a breath of fresh air for the online community. Suddenly there was an open-source, standards-compliant competitor gaining momentum. We were thrust from the shackles of monopoly into an arms race that culminated in the second browser war.

Mozilla was a critical piece of the puzzle. It was a veritable flagship of new, exciting features. Better CSS support. A clean, tabbed interface. The prevalence and importance of add-ons could be its own post; countless extensions have become standard features across the board of popular browsers.

By the time Firefox 3 was released, in June 2008, Mozilla could do no wrong. Everything was on the up-and-up.

Then, the landscape changed.

Is Firefox still necessary?

With Microsoft innovating again (see IE9), Apple’s devices gaining popularity (and Safari with them), and Google bursting into the browser space with Chrome, competition was hot in 2009/2010.

Firefox still played a key role at this time: it was the yardstick against which all other browsers were held. Sure Safari and Chrome have built-in development tools, but are they as good as Firebug? How does WebKit’s HTML5 support compare to Gecko’s? And isn’t IE still laughably behind?

But this role has run its course. The major players are now well-established. Most users are aware of alternatives to their operating systems’ default browsers.

This can’t be a long-term position for Firefox. It won’t last.

The competition is no longer resting on its laurels. Chrome is closing in. Internet Explorer is finally in a position to reverse its eight-year downward trend, and WebKit is absolutely dominating this year’s explosive rise in mobile browsing.

Extensions are everywhere. Support for standards has never been better. Firefox is quietly becoming less and less relevant with each passing update.

So I ask again:

Does the golden age for Firefox lie in its past?

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  1. I still love me some Firefox, although I’m lamenting their new faster release schedule, a.k.a. incrementing the version number every six weeks.