Commentary

A Resurgence of the Browser Wars

"Use Mozilla Firefox. It works every time."

That was the quote of the weekend, delivered Sunday night by my friend Craig. I was helping him open a seller's account on eBay so he could put some things up for auction. We had just tried to use Internet Explorer (IE), but some nasty malware wouldn't let us access eBay without getting bounced to some "alternative" auction sites. We simply couldn't get to eBay on IE, and Spybot: Search and Destroy wasn't picking up on the malware.

Craig's brother Rich and his wife Sandy are schoolteachers living on the East End of Long Island. They are reasonably computer literate, but have had much the same experience with IE. I installed Firefox on their machine last time I visited them. And I know many other folks who are getting increasingly frustrated with the tendency of IE to be hijacked by all sorts of malware that compromises their machines. These situations quickly speed the adoption of Firefox and other alternative browsers that are not as susceptible to malware attacks and compromised security.

Last week as I was driving home from work, I began to hear commercials for Firefox on talk radio. The unique selling proposition? Exactly what I've described above. The commercial even went so far as to explain why IE is more susceptible than Firefox. On top of the radio commercials, they've run a huge two-page ad in The New York Times.

When I first downloaded Firefox, the selling point for me was the notion of a more flexible browser that blocked pop-ups, enabled things like tabbed browsing and useful plug-ins. But the selling proposition to the non-early adopters is, simply, that it works, is more secure, and gets rid of all those unexpected troubles.

Given the capital expended in the first browser war, in which Internet Explorer captured the vast majority of the browser market and Netscape Navigator emerged the clear loser, the stakes are very high. Firefox has been downloaded over 16 million times and has a very dedicated following. (See spreadfirefox.com to get an idea of just how dedicated these folks are.) It's starting to appear on client radar screens - I've received inquiries concerning how sites should be optimized to address Firefox's user base, plus a couple of others about bundling or co-marketing opportunities. It's not just an underground browser alternative for geeks anymore.

Consumers are tired of spending serious money on computers, for whatever reason, and having them turn into very expensive doorstops mere months later due to malware and compromised security. And the word is out - Firefox will give you what you want from the Web, and keep this nasty stuff off your machine. How soon before we see a sequel to the first browser war? Some, including me, would say it's underway already.

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