Yesterday we announced that Google Chrome has surpassed Internet Explorer 8 by a slim margin to take the top spot as the world’s most used browser. While the margin is very slim indeed, the upward gains of Chrome have been no secret, with the browser climbing as much as 10% in some months in order to take the top spot. On the other hand, Firefox has been hemorrhaging users, losing a high percentage now for several months. With Firefox previously thought to have been the IE killer, what went so wrong and why is Chrome now on top?
1. Firefox is not a platform like Chrome and Internet Explorer.
When Chrome was first released, it undeniably had a rocky start. No extension support, no theme support and no script support were available, which made Firefox users laugh derisively in the browser’s direction. I know, I was one of them. Now, over two years later, Chrome has become a staple on both of my computers and millions more like me, who jumped ship from Firefox to Chrome.
When the Chrome Web store was released, Firefox users shared another chuckle, though it was less hearty than the original. The move was clearly a mimic of one Apple made with its own products which saw success thanks to the closed platform that is OS X and iOS. While Chrome Web store still has a long way to go before it is the perfect complement to Chrome, Google’s other services more than help make up for the lacking of its own app store. Extensions created by Google for Chrome help integrate its many web services directly into the browser for a seamless experience, making using the browser a pure joy.
Microsoft has recognized the success of Google and the integration of its services it offers into its browser as a platform, which is why the same integration is being mimicked in IE10. SkyDrive, Windows LIVE, Bing, and all of Microsoft’s web services have been integrated into the browser nearly seamlessly. The end result is that for users of both Microsoft and Google and their respective browsers, the experience is second to none.
So where does this leave Firefox? Mozilla does not provide any services outside of its browser. Google and Microsoft services can be integrated into the browser using user-created extensions, but one of the biggest headaches that comes with any Firefox update is whether or not your extensions will break. While the initial extensible nature of the browser helped it gain steam and marketshare against IE6 in the early browser wars, users have found a comfortable niche in Internet Explorer and Google Chrome in that it causes less headaches and provides a more seamless experience.
2. Silent updates are golden.
One of the major features of Chrome is that it silently updates in the background without any input from the user. While this may seem a trivial feature to advanced users who love to tweak browsers, to the average person who just wants to access the Internet, not being bugged by constant prompts to update is a significant advantage. Microsoft has recognized this and has adopted the same policy with IE10, which will silently update in the background without bothering the user for permission first.
So where does this leave Firefox? The problem has been exacerbated since Firefox adopted the six week release cycle that Chrome enjoys. While major updates and memory improvements are rolled into releases much quicker, constantly bugging the end user to update usually causes more frustration than joy. Users want to spend time on the Internet, not spend time updating the service they use to access the Internet, even if it means a more secure experience.
3. Chrome is king of the sandbox.
Crashes are inevitable when it comes to code interacting with other code, but how a browser handles these crashes can be a defining factor in how well it is perceived by the public that uses it. One of the greatest features of Chrome is that each tab is instanced in memory so if something happens to go wrong with that particular tab, it is the only one that crashes (generally). This sandboxing of tabs has made Chrome a much better experience than Firefox which crashes and takes all 12 tabs you had open with you.
Of course there are extensions for Firefox that allow you to resume your browsing by reviving your tabs after a crash, but given how seamless sandboxing works for Chrome and how well it complements the end user experience, this is something that Mozilla should have considered the moment it became available in Chrome. You should never have to use an extension to properly recover from a crash, since the average user won’t care about a crash happening until it does and work is lost.
As it stands, Firefox is very slowly becoming a niche browser for the power user who wants to customize their experience to an exact tee. Even that space is being tread upon with Chrome, as more extensions and themes become available daily. Most major Firefox extension developers have ported their extensions to Chrome, which makes making the switch that much easier. By this time next year, Firefox could have very little viability in the browser wars as both Chrome and Internet Explorer gain steam by supplying users with a seamless, integrated experience that operates much more smoothly.
[Image Credit: The Shoze Blog]