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Uncertainty Looming Over Firefox’s Future

Times are tough for Mozilla and its flagship web browser Firefox. Last month Firefox lost its number two position in the web browser usage to Chrome. Corporate users are mulling over abandoning Firefox as their preferred web browser because of its accelerated development schedule. Mozilla’s three year old contact with Google, from which it earns the majority of its revenue, may not be renewed. And, now that a study by research firm Accuvant has rated Firefox as the least secure among the top three browsers, seems to be the last clout they need at this moment. It seems – while the present is tough, the future is tougher.

While Firefox has been shipping new releases to the market at a pretty fast speed (current version is Firefox 8, which exceeds Firefox’s roadmap expectations), people are not very happy with it. Ed Bott has discussed how this breakneck product development speed is alienating Firefox’s corporate partners.

Mozilla’s response to this argument was that they (Firefox developers) are focused on general users, not enterprises. But, general users are not happy with it either. Because they also share a common set of problems the enterprises are facing to keep up with Firefox’s new releases. Users’ favorite add-ons and extensions suddenly become unsupported as new updates don’t roll out in the same pace Firefox is running now. And, I have seen some users who have now downgraded Firefox in their preferred browser list.

This new trend is also reflected in StatCounter’s Nov 2011 top 5 browser usage statistics. Firefox has lost its second place to Chrome last month, in terms of usage.

Added to that, a new study from security firm Accuvant identifies vulnerabilities of Firefox in exploit mitigation. It identifies that exploit mitigation techniques like sandboxing, plug-in security, JIT hardening and URL blacklisting are either unimplemented or ineffective in Firefox.

A response from Johnathan Nightingale, Mozilla’s director of Firefox engineering, has however presents Mozilla’s standpoint on browser security, stating security to be Firefox’s ‘central priority’.  The statement also makes it clear that while Mozilla is investigating about the addition of important features like sandboxing into their security technologies, they don’t consider this as a ‘silver bullet’.

All these indicate that even if Firefox is shipping new versions at a breakneck speed, they actually fail to address some of today’s issues and trends. Firefox still don’t have anything t combat the closed app based ecosystems IE and Chrome is rolling out. It has not yet rolled out a common platform for web, apps and social media on which desktop and mobile products will be built. Firefox knows this, and it is reflected in their roadmap.

But, with a large portion of Mozilla’s revenue being gone (around 86% of their total revenue or 100 million US dollars) with the ending of Mozilla’s search partnership with Google, continuing the developments of Firefox would be tough.

Some also argue that Firefox may slide into irrelevance sometime in future.
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