Ex-Mozilla Employee Knows Why Firefox Is Losing To Chrome

    July 10, 2012
    Zach Walton
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It’s no secret that Firefox is losing the browser wars to Google Chrome. Everybody loves the simplicity and ease of use that Chrome brings with it. I would use Chrome if I didn’t have Waterfox and its wonderful 64-bit version of Firefox. It turns out that even a former Mozilla employee, Jono DiCarlo, recognizes this and lays out what he feels is wrong with Mozilla’s flagship product.

So what’s the main thing that’s killing Firefox’ popularity? The blog post is titled “Everybody hates Firefox updates” so I think you can guess. DiCarlo says that he had an experience all too common last month with a Canadian woman who said she switched to Chrome because “Firefox kept breaking her extensions and asking her to restart.”

DiCarlo then goes on to say that everybody who has stopped using Firefox all tell him the exact same thing. The browser either broke their extensions, asked them to restart or both. He points out that the main culprit was the “rapid release process” that has Firefox becoming more like Chrome with an update going out every six weeks. This is where things start to get interesting.

DiCarlo writes that many people in the Mozilla community came out against the proposed plan. Mozilla is a community driven product that obviously cares about the users and developers above all else, right? Not in this case as he says that the order came from the top-down that Firefox was to enter into the “rapid release process.”

So here we are on Firefox 14 and it seems that there hasn’t been a lot of work done on the product since it hit Firefox 4. Sure, it has a few fancy new bells and whistles, but it’s essentially the same Firefox I’ve been using all my life. The updates don’t seem to really do anything for me and that’s problem according to DiCarlo. He says that there’s a disconnect between software developers and users with the developers not being able to see updates as anything but good. The users only see it as one more chance for the developers to screw them over.

We now know that updates suck, and why to an extent. To give us the full story, DiCarlo lists the three things that make updates the worst possible thing:

  • The download/restart takes forever and interrupts your work with a bunch of intrusive dialog boxes.
  • The update may break stuff that you counted on, either by removing features you were using, or by breaking compatibility with other software you use. Maybe the developers never tested your use case, or worse – they tested for it but decdided it didn’t matter because only 2% of users used it. Tough luck to you if you’re one of those 2%.
  • If they changed the interface, your productivity will be lower than usual until you’ve spent a bunch of time learning a new interface. Even if the new interface is “better”, in some theoretical way, to some hypothetical average user, re-training yourself to use it is nothing but a time sink.
  • If anything, DiCarlo wants software developers to take a lesson from Firefox’s mistake – “make sure the benefit to the users outweighs the pain” when it comes to updates. Firefox has been bleeding users everyday for the past few years and the update process has definitely been the main culprit. If Firefox wants to become a bigger player in the browser wars again, they must become user friendly to all instead of just some.

    Interestingly enough, he says that Mozilla also worked its way to ruin by trying to compete with Chrome. He says that the company was constantly comparing Firefox to Chrome and thinking of ways to fight fire with fire instead of fire with water. Even though Opera doesn’t command the audience that Firefox or Chrome does, it’s still immensely popular among its users because they do something different.

    So what advice does DiCarlo have for Mozilla? Make updates suck less and maybe work in a way to make them less obtrusive to users. Chrome delivers updates silently without the user ever knowing they received it, but Firefox still loves to alert you whenever it has downloaded a new update. Making the process as painless as possible is key if my favorite browser wants to ever get anywhere. I really don’t want to see Firefox ending up like Thunderbird, but it could happen if they don’t stop to take the users’ needs into account first.


    A Mozilla spokesperson reached out to us with a statement in regards to this story:

    Jono’s analysis is interesting, but outdated. Regular Firefox updates are good news for users and for the Web but only when they don’t interrupt what you’re doing. Today’s Firefox updates are applied in the background with no interruptions; they even keep your Firefox Add-ons compatible between releases. The result is that our users always have a fast, beautiful and secure browsing experience. Regular releases also let us get new features to our users faster than ever before, and we can listen to their feedback to improve things, just as we did with updates in 2011.

    • http://www.webdesigncapetown.co.za Mark

      I find that Firefox to bloated with stuff and runs incredibly slowly. Big fan of Google Chrome.

      • Wiso

        Mark, give a try to SwareIron web browser; privacity counts.

        • Wiso

          Correction: privacy instead of privacity

    • Lyric

      I’ve been using Firefox as my default browser since version 1.5.3 (at least; maybe longer)and have personally experienced all of the changes it has gone through since then. My friend who got me to start using it called it “a fast, stripped-down version of Mozilla browser.” It seems like Firefox was always at it’s best when it adhered to that mentality. Everything you need, nothing you don’t, and any feature you want can be added with extensions. Fast forward to today, and it’s a much heavier browser. I can’t say I like the bloat, but I can’t say I notice it all that much either, given that I’m on a relatively fast computer, and I still use a handful of extensions and about:config tweaks to increase speed.

      In the end, Firefox still wins out to me for its flexibility. I was on 56k dial-up when I started using Firefox, and now, on my 20 Mb cable connection, I honestly don’t notice the speed difference between Firefox and Chrome. If a few milliseconds per page load is all I have to pay for absolute control over my browsing experience, then that’s fine. All that being said, whenever Firefox got a major update (2, 3, and 4), I always delayed upgrading for about 2 months just so my extensions would still work. It isn’t nearly that bad these days, but it has been a pain every now and then over the years. For the record, as a longtime user, I think the rapid release idea is utter bollocks.

      P.S. I wasn’t aware of Waterfox before reading this article. Running it now and liking it. Thanks!

    • http://www.saheltech.com Web Developer SF Bay CA

      A few years back I wanted to switch from IE to Firefox but after I tried Google Chrome, it became my default web browser. As a developer, I am not really concerned about the small differences in web browsers speed.
      All I need is to make sure my web app performs well in all the majors web browsers. The annoying thing about Firefox is it’s always when I start it that it prompts/forces me to updates: not really a good time. Why not do all those update in the background while I am using the application?

    • http://www.placestoeatokay.com Steve G

      I would use Chrome more often if Google would make the interface better. I basically use it for playing Facebook games mostly. Only cause they load faster. I didn’t know for the longest time that Chrome even had add-ons. Also I heard that Chrome does pre-fetching and I would hate to think that is the only reason it’s loading faster for most pages I check on my sites. Pre-fetching screws up stats by making you think somebody is looking at your site and leaving right away when they’re not even looking at your page, they’re looking at another site that is linking to your site.

    • cutie

      @Web Developer SF Bay CA

      Firefox don’t force you to update if you disable the options in preference panel.

      I’m a user of version 10.0.2. with some add-ons. I installed them initially and no updates furthermore.
      I’ve never had a crash and I’m browsing perfectly without problems on both OSX and Windows.

      I tried Chrome, it’s faster and it’s my alternative. Just in case…

      I will try Waterfox. I’m on 64bit after all 8)

      • m_gol

        Good luck when sites start breaking for you as no web developer now cares about outdated Firefox versions. And in case of Windows, you can catch some nasty viruses as old Firefoxes can contain security vulnerabilities that will never get patched.

        BTW, as for the security – if you really want to update very rarely, better use Firefox ESR from here:
        Current version is 10.0.6. It is a REALLY bad idea to use unsupported Firefox versions on Windows.

    • NIBB

      The biggest reason why Firefox is losing is because they have lost their soul. They are copying Chrome every single step of the game and so users say “Hell, I will just use Chrome then”, its like if Google actually paid them to be more like “Chrome”.

      Firefox was unique, innovative and great, years back, but today? Today Firefox tries to be a slow, bloated, unstable Chrome copy/clone. It even looks and behaves like Chrome now. But as ironic as it seems they copy the worse things of Chrome not the good things.

      At least Microsoft with all the hate it receives against IE never copied Chrome and its browser GUI is different and behaves different. Even Amazon browser has more ideas. When your product starts to look and feel like your competition, it means you lack ideas.

      • http://www.traditionalisthome.com/ Wulf Nesthead

        Thank you for mentioning the bloat. For me it’s the biggest flaw of Firefox. Their talking heads claim that one only has that problem with tons of high-usage tabs open, which is a blatant lie.
        And they refuse to do anything about it!

    • http://gplus.to/bperiodic bperiodic

      It’s an intolerant company that fires its CEO to make political statements.

      • Jorge Rivera

        Brendan Eich resigned voluntarily, read his own blog.

        • http://gplus.to/bperiodic bperiodic

          The only think he did voluntarily was to save his integrity amongst the backlash. If overlooking the actual motivation and focusing on the action (resignation) helps save Mozilla’s face or your argument then that is all there is or ever shall be it to the story for you people.

        • http://www.traditionalisthome.com/ Wulf Nesthead

          That’s not proof. They always “resign voluntarily,” even when they are fired.

          • Jorge Rivera

            So basically you are saying that never in de history of mankind has anyone resign voluntarily?

            • http://www.traditionalisthome.com/ Wulf Nesthead

              No, I’m saying that in the corporate culture of the Unites States in the second decade of the twenty-first century, CEOs “resign” when they are fired.
              The only one to mention the entire history of mankind is you.

            • Jorge Rivera

              So basically you are saying that never in the history of the second decade of the twenty-first century in the US has someone resigned voluntarily?

            • http://www.traditionalisthome.com/ Wulf Nesthead

              No, just that a “resignation” is not in itself sufficient evidence that an individual has relinquished his position willingly without duress.

            • Jorge Rivera

              exactly you got my point!!! it is insufficient evidence of being fired as well.

    • Johan

      Now in 2014 we see Pale Moon winning at the best gecko based browser with slow releases but stable ones, great browser. FF is dead on nowadays.

    • jSul

      Jono hit it right on the nose. There’s a reason Google doesn’t do rapid release with AndroidOS – it breaks apps. Firefox took their only advantage – an ecosystem of extensions and developers – and flushed them down the toilet.

      The update Mozilla sent you is a predictable lie: “they even keep your Firefox Add-ons compatible between releases”. No they don’t! Mozilla even obnoxiously changed method names and UI-element ids without changing their functionality. I don’t have time to check for those stupid changes every few weeks. Mozilla’s addon reviewers also became unprofessional jerks, even AMO heads were rude, so why bother?

      I had a few addons with ~100,000 users combined. Even I stopped using Firefox. Not worth the grief! Especially working for free. Even with donations, it was something like pennies per hour of development (not including user support), and other people would just copy your code anyway.

      On Android, every few months Firefox would erase all my bookmarks, with no local backup possible. Not surprised the interest in FirefoxOS is zilch!