The Mozilla Foundation is planning a renewed marketing push around the latest update to its Firefox open-source Web browser in order to boost the products visibility among consumers.
Despite the effort, some industry watchers contend that it will remain a significant challenge for the nonprofit group to win more users away from Microsoft Corp.
On Tuesday, Mozilla released Firefox 1.5, the much-awaited update to the free browser software that promises a slate of improvements ranging from faster Web page downloads to improved security features.
Based on open-source code, or programs developed in a public community within which the underlying design of a software program is shared among developers, Firefox claims to be a more reliable alternative to Microsofts Internet Explorer.
By midday Wednesday, Mozilla officials said the browser had already been downloaded the groups Web site well over 1 million times.
Throughout the browsers development, officials from the Mountain View, Calif., organization have been pledging to launch an aggressive marketing scheme aimed at raising the browsers profile with consumers.
According to Paul Kim, director of product marketing for Mozilla, the first elements of the promotional campaign will kick off over the next several weeks and rely heavily on existing users of Firefox to help convince other people to try out the browser.
The first stage of the initiative will consist of a program known as the Firefox Flicks campaign, which will consist of 30-second video testimonials from existing users of the browser about why they prefer the technology.
Mozilla plans to create an online software tool to help individuals produce the clips and submit them.
The marketing effort will also feature a Web page that allows visitors to view a virtual map of the globe that denotes where people submitting the testimonials live.
Kim said that Firefox will roll out a series of additional marketing programs over the first half of 2006, and that it will also look to gain visibility via its search partnership with Google Inc. in the Americas and in Europe, and its newly announced partnership with Yahoo in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
The executive said that rather than trying to saturate people with high-profile advertisements, Mozilla will continue to lean on its customers to tell its story to the masses.
“I dont think youll see us buy a Super Bowl ad, but well try to be smart about getting the message out whether via our own efforts or through our work with partners,” Kim said.
“The common theme will be us telling the community of Firefox users that they are the best marketing tool that we could hope for; thats a lot more relevant to [consumers] than anything that we can come up with.”
In terms of funding its marketing efforts, Kim said that Mozilla would continue to use its partnerships to gain exposure without making large-scale capital investments, in addition to collecting donations online, as the group does today.
Since launching just over one year ago, Firefox has garnered significant attention for attracting over 100 million downloads and siphoning some market share away from Explorer.
According to Onestat.com, which analyzes Internet traffic, Firefoxs slice of the worldwide browser market is currently holding at 11 percent, compared to Internet Explorers 85 percent share of the business.
Analysts at Janco Research report that Firefox ranks second in the browser segment with roughly 10 percent of all users, while Explorer still commands 85 percent of the market.
Victor Janulaitis, chief executive at the Park City, Utah-based research firm, said that Mozilla has made “huge strides” in improving its browser with Firefox 1.5, but he believes that it will still be an uphill battle for the organization to attract new legions of users.
The analyst said that Mozilla has done a good job internally with improving the Firefox code to speed up the browser, allowing it to display Web pages and digital images faster, with speedier page refresh rates.
Janulaitis said his initial tests of the browser evidenced some issues displaying Web-based forms written to run on Explorer, providing an altered look and feel to the user, but he is otherwise impressed with the release.
According to the analysts latest research, Firefox has seen its download rates slow over the last three months and that he believes the browser has “hit a wall” in terms of finding its way to new users.
However, he believes Mozilla can increase its audience if it is able to get the word out effectively.
“If they do a good job with the marketing push, I think they can attract users, but that probably wont happen until after the holiday season slowdown, and theyll also have to overcome the pending release of Microsofts new browser,” said Janulaitis. “But if they can get people to try it, they should add some users based on the download speeds.”
The analyst said Mozilla will likely find most of its new users outside the business world, as he said the browser still faces a “huge battle to win over corporate users,” based largely on the existing forms compatibility issues.
He said that effect may discourage some people from trying the browser out at home as well.
“Look and feel is still an issue, and since it doesnt look exactly the same as Explorer on some pages, business people will still be using two browsers,” Janulaitis said. “If people can use one all the time, they will do that and carry that over outside of work.”
For its part, Mozilla has said it is focusing primarily on recruiting consumers, not companies, with the Firefox 1.5 release and marketing.
The analyst said Mozilla is also still struggling to appear as professional as its deep-pocketed rival, as he said the group has great technology people but has some remaining shortcomings on the business side of its operations.
As an example, he pointed to the Firefox.com homepage, which requires people to click through to a secondary page to find the browser download.
Nate Root, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, said Mozilla may have problems convincing average people to take a look.
While the browser is very appealing to software programmers and tech-hobbyists, he said he doesnt see the software making splash with large numbers of consumers in the near future.
Root also said he sees a long road for the group in getting businesses to get onboard with Firefox.
“Getting Grandma to switch over from Internet Explorer, which is already installed on her computer, to this open-source thing on the Internet that she needs to find and download, will be hard,” Root said.
“And getting corporate America to give up a browser like Explorer that works well for them and they know how to support, and does things like enable Windows updates, in favor of a somewhat unknown, open-source alternative, is a real challenge.”
To Mozillas credit, the analyst said the group has inspired its legions of open-source fans to spread the word about Firefox to others, and that it is making a more concerted effort to recruit business users.
In terms of competition, Root said that Microsoft has already begun to focus more attention on its browser business as a result of Firefoxs rapid growth.
As a result, the analyst believes that the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant will continue to mimic features that people find compelling in Firefox, as it has already done in adding the tabbed browsing features championed by the open-source rival.
“Its pretty hard to conquer the world with a new point release of a Web browser, Mozilla is making a huge marketing push but most of the world wont notice,” said Root.
“Firefox loyalists will probably upgrade to see whats new and play with the new features, but this release probably isnt the foot in the door to some larger market.”
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