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Jetpack may be the only speed boost Firefox needs

Google Chrome just got faster, but until it and other competing browsers get Firefox's community, Firefox will continue to outpace its rivals.

OStatic reports that the latest build of Google's Chrome browser outpaces Firefox 3 beta 4, with up to 30 percent faster performance than its Chrome predecessor, but this report overlooks a speedier Firefox alternative (Firefox 3 beta 5 is zippier), but it also misses arguably the biggest advantage Firefox has over every other browser:

A massive, growing, deeply involved add-on community, one that is only going to get stronger with the release of Jetpack.

Google has talked about getting Firefox-like extensions for Chrome but it, like Microsoft's Internet Explore and Apple's Safari, woefully underdeliver on community.

Before you cry 'Foul!', recalling that I dubbed the value of community "overhyped" in software, let me quickly suggest Firefox as an exception to the general rule, and a significant one, at that. John Lilly, Mozilla's CEO, reminded me on Twitter that 40 percent of Mozilla's development comes from outside contributors.

This makes sense, as Mozilla's Firefox fits all the parameters I outlined to hit the open core, open complement, open community box on my "openness grid."

So, fast as Firefox is, forget speed for a minute. Or two, because you really do have time, especially when the benefits of the Firefox add-on development community dramatically outpace whatever JavaScript improvements Google, Apple, or Microsoft may manufacture into their browsers.

Jetpack, as CNET reports, makes building and maintaining add-ons much easier for developers. InformationWeek notes that Firefox already sports more than 7,000 add-ons/extensions. Imagine what happens once the bar to creating and maintaining those add-ons/extensions gets better with Jetpack....

Mozilla is also proposing new rules for commit access to the core Firefox code, which could further open up the development process and encourage even more community involvement. Firefox, in other words, is going from strength to strength while its proprietary peers (which does not include open-source Google Chrome) struggle to be all things for all people.

In a product like the browser, which has so many disparate uses and users, this is an exercise in futility. Horizontal technologies like browsers and operating systems are best developed by communities, not individual organizations. They can be shepherded by a single organization - be it a for-profit corporation or a non-profit - but unless they break through the walls of their own office complex, they will struggle.

Dave Neary has suggested different ways to calculate the size of an open-source project's community. By any measure, Mozilla's Firefox community is large and growing.

This, and not JavaScript enhancements (of which Firefox will continue to do plenty), is what sets Firefox apart, and ensures that it's the browser to beat. Even though its 22-percent market share, growing 5 percent each year, still trails IE's dwindling 68-percent market share, declining 5 percent each year, Firefox has community, and that community is the decisive factor in the browser battle.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.