Ex-Mozilla Employee Knows Why Firefox Is Losing To Chrome

    July 10, 2012

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.