'Why Firefox?' and 'Why Windows?'--same answer?

Mozilla may be relying too much on "community" to answer the question "Why Firefox?"--a problem that Microsoft also had with its Windows business.

Is Mozilla becoming too much like Microsoft?

In a strange bit of irony, Mozilla, the foundation behind the popular open-source Firefox browser, increasingly relies on Microsoft's playbook to promote Firefox adoption. No, Mozilla executives aren't secretly plotting an open-source monopoly to replace Microsoft's, and, indeed, are focusing precisely on doing the opposite.

But the answer to the "Why Firefox?" question increasingly sounds the same as the answer to "Why Windows?"

Two peas in a pod?
Namely, community/application support, to the exclusion of significant improvements in its performance.

I've been using Google's Chrome browser on Linux, Mac, and Windows during the past week and it screams. While Firefox hogs system resources , Google Chrome gets its job done much faster and with far fewer resources.

So why do I continue to promote Firefox? For the same reason and in the same way that Mozilla does: community.

There's more to Mozilla's marketing, of course. Mozilla executive Mitchell Baker talks urgently and eloquently about the importance of an open Web, served by a community-driven, completely open browser.

But at its foundation, Mozilla's argument sounds eerily similar to Microsoft's: we may not be faster, but we have a better community.

After using Chrome for a week, I'm not sure this will be enough. Chrome, after all, has support for the Firefox extensions that I care most about (like AdBlock), and it has internalized others within its standard features (like "Pin tab" instead of relying on Faviconize, as I do in Firefox). And Chrome marries these to a super-fast browsing experience.

Microsoft for years has argued that it's better simply because it has broad application support.

This is a compelling differentiator, but is it the one that we really want for Firefox?

I know I don't. I love the Firefox browser. It has been my preferred browser for years, and I expect it to remain such.

But however much I may prefer Firefox because of its third-party extension support and its cross-platform approach , it's not going to be enough if Chrome pulls significantly ahead in performance and catches up with add-on support. Not while Firefox consumes so much of my system resources and follows, rather than leads, Google in speed.

Mozilla has been improving Firefox performance, but not as rapidly as Google has been increasing Chrome's, in my experience. This needs to change.

Community is a compelling differentiator for Firefox. But it's not the only one, and it may not be enough if Mozilla doesn't leverage that community to outpace Google Chrome performance.

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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