Firefox and Beyond: Mozilla President Browses the Future

Q&A: As Mozilla launches Firefox for the masses, the group's president, Mitchell Baker, outlines goals for gaining more Web browser converts and focusing on a development platform play.

For the open-source Mozilla Foundation, Tuesday marks a major transition. The group has brought its Mozilla Firefox browser out of preview with a Version 1.0 release targeted to everyday Web users.

Firefoxs coming of age is the nonprofits biggest release since America Online Inc.s Netscape Communications division last year spun it out as an independent organization.

Mozilla has even made modest inroads against Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer, which still commands 93 percent of the browser market. IE has continued to lose market share since June, and Firefox has been one of the biggest beneficiaries.

But just how far can Mozilla and Firefox really go in competing with Microsoft and gaining converts? To answer that question and to understand Mozillas goals beyond Firefox, Senior Writer Matt Hicks talked with Mozilla President Mitchell Baker.

She laid out a future where Firefox will grab 10 percent market share and where Mozillas many technology parts will become an increasingly important application development platform.

What do you make of the ability the Mozilla Foundation has had to exceed a lot of its own goals in the prerelease of Firefox? What is leading to that kind of interest?

Theres a whole set of things leading to interest in Firefox. One is the product itself, which, once people have tried it, people love it. So its both innovative, its got new features, it makes the Web a more enjoyable experience, it makes people more comfortable, and its fast. Its a set of things you would want in a browser if you sat down and really thought about it.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about the release of Firefox 1.0.

Another thing that drives it is the poor-to-miserable Web experience that many people are having today. … The browser is the key to ones Web experience. And people often take it for granted or dont think about it. But with the sort of decay in the Web experience, people are really forced to think about, "Why has this really become so bad?" And one of the mechanisms for improving it is your browser.

How much of it do you think is people wanting a choice beyond Internet Explorer, whether it be [because of] security or [IE] not having had many major feature enhancements in the last few years, or do you think [the interest] is pointing to something bigger than that?

Clearly we know that people want choice, but its not always expressed to us that way. We get mail, unsolicited mail, from people that switched to our browser, and they dont always express it as choice. What they say is, "Man, I tried this and I loved it. Im just so happy."

The bigger issue is that the Web is becoming more and more a part of our lives. … When people find out that this new part of ones life can actually be so much better than they have experienced, then they do get excited.

The reality is that there have always been alternative browsers, but there hasnt been a lot of action on them until recently as far as the market-share numbers, at least. How do you explain the change in market share. … Why would now be the time for that to occur?

Because I think that two things have aligned. One is that our product itself is really ready. And the second thing is that the drawbacks of the status quo have become apparent. The drawbacks are a browser that, for most people if theyre using what came on their computer, doesnt have much new in it, if anything; isnt updated regularly; and has a set of problems. Some of those problems become very high profile.

You have a setting where people are sort of stumbling along, making do with something that is not working well, and then suddenly something that really works well and lets you do new things appears. That combination has really pushed people to change.

Next Page: Firefox goals.