Maybe Firefox is not so great, after all (?)

Mozilla's retention rate isn't great, but it's not cause for alarm, either. But work is required to improve.

Just back from coaching my daughter's soccer practice, and I stumble into this on Slashdot: "only 50% of the people downloading Firefox actually try it out, and only a further half of those continue to use it actively.

In other words, a 25% retention rate, as ZDNet points out. Why is the retention rate so low?

Arguably, because Firefox isn't much better. Let the flames begin.

It's not that Internet Explorer is better, either. It stinks. It's Easy Street for phishers and other adware/malware to find their way onto the PC. But Firefox isn't dramatically better. if you're on Windows, you're in trouble. Period. It just doesn't matter much which browser you use.

Given that there isn't a huge functional gap between the two (and arguably Firefox's customization through plug-ins is a strike against the browser, not for it, since 99% of the world's population doesn't live in Silicon Valley and so isn't infatuated with technology), the major difference between the two is ease of access. Internet Explorer comes pre-bundled with every copy of Windows. Windows has 95% market share (or better). Ergo, most people will start and finish with Internet Explorer, with little reason to switch, as Larry @ ZDNet says.

Doing TV advertising to change this is dumb. D-U-M-B. Working with Apple to make Firefox (instead of Safari) its default browser would be better, but probably unlikely. Mozilla needs to figure out how to be the first browser that users see or, at least, the browser best adapted to the applications that users care about.

Bundling deals with Google, Intuit, or other popular web and desktop software seems like Mozilla's best bet. It won't get there as a feel-good open-source project, though. It needs to put commercial teeth behind such deals, much as it has with Google.

Mozilla has a long way to go but, let's be frank: it has come a heck of a long way. It can improve, but a 25% retention rate is a cause for optimism and action, not despondency and inaction.

I mean, even I recently switched to Firefox from Safari. What was my reason? CNET's blogging tool doesn't support Safari (or IE, I believe). I had to. I resisted until I found a theme that made Safari look just like Safari. It's still not as fast, but it's enough. Firefox could have got me there a lot sooner by doing the work for me.

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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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