Could the Google train hurt Firefox?

Just as Mozilla seems to be winning handily against Microsoft's Internet Explorer, along comes an ever-improving Google Chrome.

Despite all the handwringing about Microsoft's market clout in the European browser war, the real threat to Firefox may be Google, not Microsoft. Even as Microsoft's browser market share deflates to 64.36 percent , Google has upped its game with its increasingly extensible Chrome browser.

Chrome to crash the IE/Firefox party

For those of us who cling to Mozilla Firefox because of its library of excellent add-ons and extensions, suddenly we have another viable, open-source choice.

Internet Explorer remains a viable threat to Firefox due to Microsoft's heft in operating systems, which helps to create enough inertia that most Windows users who start with IE simply never discover that they have browser alternatives.

But while IE plays catch-up to Firefox in sheer extendability and third-party innovation, the real contender could well be Google Chrome, which marries open source with a strong developer/extension story and bests just about everyone in performance .

I love Firefox, but mostly because I love the third-party innovation that Firefox enables. Add-ons like ForecastFox (in-browser weather updates), AdBlock Plus (blocking ads), and so on make my browsing experience awesome.

Such add-ons, however, tax the resources of my MacBook Pro. Considerably.

As I type this, I have 15 tabs open and have 22 add-ons installed. As a result, Firefox is eating up roughly 30 percent of my CPU, even beating resource hog Java.

Matt Asay

That's a lot of juice to power my browser, even when considering that most of my work is done within the browser (from common browsing to Zimbra e-mail to Google search to...you name it).

According to TechCrunch, development of add-ons for Google Chrome is much easier than it is for Firefox, and those add-ons apparently no longer constrain Chrome's performance in the same way that Firefox add-ons do for Firefox.

If true, then Mozilla needs to be doing a lot more than simply opening up a Firefox add-on marketplace in 2010, as The Register reports it will. Instead, Firefox should be heads down on improving browser performance.

A marketplace makes sense for enriching the Firefox developer community and, hopefully, diversifying Mozilla's revenue sources so that it's not so heavily dependent on Google.

But given that Google Chrome's improved extensibility is aiming squarely at Firefox, Mozilla has more than a monetary problem. It has a serious competitive threat looming, one that will only be won by significantly improving performance while maintaining its excellent track record with developers.

I'm confident that the Firefox team can do it. I'm equally confident that it must. Yes, Mozilla marshals a more diverse and robust open-source community around Firefox than Google does for Chrome. But users arguably won't care.

The Google train is coming, and it's not going to stop...not even for a longtime ally like Firefox.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

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Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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