Mozilla courts influential coders with special-purpose Firefox

Firefox got its first boost when Web programmers flocked to it a decade ago. Now Mozilla is trying that strategy afresh with a coder-focused version of the browser.

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Mozilla plans to release a new version of its Firefox browser on Nov. 10 that's designed to make life easier for the developers who build the Web.

"We've redesigned the browser by looking at it through a completely new filter to put developers' interests first," the nonprofit organization said of the plan Monday, which is taking place in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of Firefox.

The new version integrates a number of programming tools that typically don't work together when programmers are building Web sites and Web apps, Mozilla said.

The move brings Firefox one step back to its developer roots. The open-source browser burst onto the scene a decade ago as a rival to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, gradually carving away its market share as word spread that Firefox offered better performance, security and features. Key to that spread was evangelism by Web developers, who appreciated its advances over IE and and add-ons like Firebug specifically to help programmers.

But Mozilla's fortunes have turned since those days. Google released Chrome, a successful challenger on personal computers that has surpassed Firefox in usage as measured by two analytics firms, Net Applications and StatCounter. And Apple's iOS operating system made Safari a top contender on mobile devices -- though the newer Chrome for Android is competing strongly.

According to Net Applications, which measures individual users' daily patterns, IE is the top desktop browser, with 58 percent share, followed by Chrome at 21 percent and Firefox at 14 percent. StatCounter, which measures on the basis of page views, not users, gives Chrome the top spot. For PCs and mobile devices, StatCounter shows Chrome at 42 percent, IE next at 13 percent, and Firefox in third place with 12 percent.

NetApplications' measurements of global browser users shows Chrome surpassing Firefox for personal computer users.
NetApplications' measurements of global browser users shows Chrome surpassing Firefox for personal computer users. NetApplications' NetMarketShare

Mozilla didn't share many details about the new Firefox version, but said the software will include two Mozilla developer projects launched this year. First is WebIDE, a browser-based programming environment, and the Firefox Tools Adapter, which lets programmers who use Firefox's developer tools see how their Web site or Web app will work on Chrome for PCs, Chrome for Android, and Safari browser for its iOS.

Another thing that's changed: Microsoft is back in the game, though IE's reputation remains far from rehabilitated after it languished last decade. Also on Monday, Microsoft announced its own Web developer news: a preview release of a tool called RemoteIE via Azure RemoteApp. This online service lets people test the latest developer version of IE even if they're using PCs running Windows or OS X PCs and mobile devices running iOS or Android. That's potentially helpful in an era in which Macs are increasingly popular and Windows isn't necessarily installed on a programmer's computer.

StatCounter, which measures page views globally across a network of Web sites, puts Chrome in first place in browser usage.
StatCounter, which measures page views globally across a network of Web sites, puts Chrome in first place in browser usage. StatCounter


Corrected at 2:41 pm PTto reflect the release date of the software. Mozilla plans to release it November 10.

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