I've hesitated to write this article for about two months now, but the time has come to make sure that everyone else is paying attention. In case you haven't heard about it yet, Firefox is a browser offered by Mozilla, the open source project.
It was released in November and has been downloaded more than 18 million times already (for a current number, check out www.spreadfirefox.com). According to various sources, Firefox ranges anywhere from 6 to 11 percent of the total browser market and it's only been in existence for three months (yes, the beta has been out for longer, but this is the "official" version).
Mozilla has been around forever and has always been supported by the digiterati online, but this effort has gone mainstream quite quickly. I've read articles in Time, Forbes, Fortune, and Business 2.0 and seen pieces on CNN Headline News.
The articles primarily tout the security aspects of Firefox as being far superior to that of Internet Explorer (and we ALL know how well the campaigning of fear can affect the general populace). Beyond security, Firefox offers a more customizable interface, which reflects the trend towards personalization of the consumer media experience, as well as the development of extensions.
Extensions are no more than a plug-in for the browser, but they continue the personalization by allowing you to place more functionality into the browser itself. Some of the extensions include a media player, a local weather forecast tool, and others.
What's significant in my mind is that this poses the first true competition for IE that we've seen in the last five years. Netscape went away long ago and there have been a number of new browsers launched since then, but none have garnered the attention that Firefox has. In the articles that I read and the reports that I see, the coverage is eerily reminiscent of the type of buzz that surrounded a certain search company when they first launched and quickly became a household word.
Of additional significance is that Firefox is free. As far as I can tell, no one is making money on this yet. Mozilla is an open source project and runs as a non-profit organization. The fact that so many people are supporting this development by spreading the word ("Spread Firefox", the site that I referred to earlier, is a free effort from a PR agency) and creating extensions for the browser to be posted on a number of sites for free, is intriguing. The Web spread by the same kind of desire for free information and services, so how will this effort continue to spread?
I am sure that Microsoft is paying attention and there is no doubt in my mind that they are working on a new IE that incorporates the security features of Firefox, the tabbed browsing model, and the other developments. Microsoft rarely launches these envelope-pushing ideas, but they always develop it later once the bugs are worked out. That being said, when will Firefox become a large enough portion of the equation to warrant the attention? When will it reach critical mass?
Of additional significance is the aspect of Firefox that includes an ad-blocking tool. Not a pop-up blocker, but an ad-blocker. This tool allows the user to block a large portion of the ads served to their favorite pages. This adds a significant issue to ad-supported sites, but one that may have to be addressed if Firefox gets adopted on a larger scale and one that consumers will eventually figure out how to use.
It's a great time to be in advertising, and a scary one if you don't think about the future.