https://ferdychristant.com/the-state-of-web-browsers-f5a83a41c1cb Late 2018 edition
Mozilla has two weapons to combat the decline, both of which will horribly fail, I’m pained to say. Not because I want them to fail, or to be overly negative or pessimistic. They will fail because both weapons do not address the root cause of the decline.
Weapon 1 is technology. Mozilla is doing fantastic things in rewriting their browser, from an engineering perspective that is. There’s Servo, Rust, WebRenderer which all look highly innovative, and will ultimately produce a better browser. They may soon have a little peak in delivering the world’s best desktop browser, from a technical point of view.
Firefox loyalists (like me) will love it, and 3 new people will agree it’s awesome. And that’s the end of it. The enormous market shifts in browser market share are not caused by browser features or performance. They are caused by the mobile-first revolution and dominant parties being able to ship default browsers to billions of users. Non-technical users do not consciously pick a browser based on features or speed, and even if they did, modern browsers are all fast. I honestly can’t tell the difference between any of them, not even on mediocre hardware. Firefox’s decline and the sharp rise of competitors is not due to engineering, therefore the solution also does not lie in engineering. And even if you did believe engineering is the solution, let’s establish that you can’t out engineer Google. You can win a battle, but not the war.
Weapon 2 is mind share. Firefox as the good guy, guardian of your privacy, an independent force for good. I care, and I’m on board with these sentimental reasons, but we have to be honest that most people don’t care. When choosing between convenience and principles, most people pick convenience. Or, they don’t even spend a second thinking about it because they don’t hear you preaching, or know you even exist (reach). Most certainly there are people who do care, but there’s not enough of us to save Firefox, I’m afraid. A telling example is when Facebook acquired WhatsApp, triggering mainstream discussions on how vast groups would ditch it because of privacy concerns. Nobody did. Whatsapp grew a lot in users that year.
Ugh, a bleak picture of Firefox’s state and its future. What is to become of it? Not much. The best outcome would be that they stop the decline and settle at the current level. Even if they did so, their market share would still decline in total as mobile keeps growing and Firefox has nothing significant there. Desktop market share could become a steady line yet are unlikely to rise significantly because there’s not a single reason I could think of why that would happen.
The worst scenario is that on desktop they too keep declining into the territory of 5% browsers or less. When this happens, they have become totally irrelevant. And not just that: they would be an irrelevant browser with a different browser engine. Like Edge.
Note that when I say irrelevant, I don’t mean dead or meaningless or without future. As a 5% browser, you can still provide meaning and relevance to perhaps a 100 million users. That’s a lot of people. Most of us work on products several scales below that. With irrelevant I mean irrelevant to the browser wars at a worldwide scale.
Our cup of poison isn’t empty yet. Microsoft, in their abandonment of Edge and their own rendering engine, could have done the right thing. Which is to collaborate with Mozilla. It would make for a powerful alliance against Chromium/Chrome dominance. At least on desktop, it could have made a meaningful difference.
But they didn’t, they didn’t choose the right path, they chose the easy short term path. Because doing right is for losers, like Firefox. Nice guys finish last, at least in this round of the wars.
https://ferdychristant.com/the-state-of-web-browsers-88224d55b4e6 2019 edition
What about Chromium-only standards-based features? Here we have the situation where Chromium shipped a new standards-based feature not yet available in other engines.
A short-sighted developer could conclude that they can just use it without fallback since the world runs Chromium anyway. Well, no. Good old lagging mobile Safari comes to the rescue. Very likely, mobile Safari will not have that new feature and it may not have it for years to come.
You cannot afford to ship a web experience that breaks in mobile Safari. Mobile Safari has 15% market share across devices. On mobile it’s 25%. In some major markets, it may even be as high as 40% on mobile.
The fallback is a must in almost any case and by developing the fallback, you are quite likely to support that other browser as well: Firefox.