Will Firefox Thrive as Mozilla Wilts?

Opinion: To ensure a healthy future for Firefox, Mozilla should remember corporate users.

After I reviewed the 1.0 release of Firefox late last year, many people asked me if the Web browser was clearly the best browser option available and if I would recommend it unreservedly as the best on the market.

I did use the word "best" in the review, but it applied very specifically: I said Firefox was "the best stand-alone Web browser option available today."

I didnt use "best" more broadly because I felt there was a better option available for certain users, including many of the businesspeople who read eWEEK. The browser I had in mind was the Mozilla Suite.

There are many reasons why I think Mozilla can be a better choice than Firefox for some users. Chief among them: Mozilla is much easier to configure, and a single integrated suite of applications is simpler to deploy and manage in a business setting than multiple stand-alone apps.

But it turns out that this argument is moot: The Mozilla Suite as we know it today wont be competing with Firefox for much longer because the Mozilla Foundation has decided to end development of the suite with the current 1.7 version.

Because of this decision, announced March 10, theres been a lot of anger and confusion in the Mozilla developer and user communities—due mainly to the way the Mozilla Foundation heads handled the situation. Many developers had been working toward Version 1.8 of Mozilla, and they now feel that their work may be wasted.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about Mozillas decision to end development of its namesake suite in favor of Firefox and Thunderbird.

But no one really can say the decision to end development of Mozilla is a surprise. Almost two years ago, I wrote an article discussing the then-just-released Mozilla road map, which detailed the end of the suite and the move to a stand-alone browser (called Firebird at the time).

Based on that road map, development of Mozilla was supposed to end at Version 1.4. So, basically, weve had three extra point releases and almost two extra years of Mozilla development.

In the announcement made earlier this month, the Mozilla Foundation did say that it will continue to support the Mozilla Suite for another year. Also, the Mozilla code is open source, and there are already plans to continue its development outside the Mozilla Foundation, possibly using the Mozilla code name SeaMonkey as the moniker for the suite.

How all of this plays out in the coming months will have a big impact on both the future of Firefox and the future of alternative browsers in general. And one of the biggest factors will be corporate users.

When Netscape was releasing products based on the Mozilla beta code a few years ago, one of my main criticisms was how unfriendly the applications were to corporate users. This was always especially frustrating because the Mozilla builds themselves were better suited for use in business settings.

I wonder if the Mozilla Foundation will make the same mistakes with Firefox—becoming overenamored with the general user base and leaving the corporate user out in the cold.

For the next year, businesses that use the Mozilla Suite will be able to stick with it, but the future is murkier after that. Will the new SeaMonkey effort attract enough developers to keep the suite well-supported and up-to-date? Will the Mozilla Foundation take steps to make Firefox, the Thunderbird messaging app, the Nvu HTML editor and other applications easier for businesses to use?

That last question could be key. If corporate-friendly features such as a single install for all the Mozilla tools or an IEAK-like kit for deploying and customizing Firefox became available, many businesses would be much more comfortable moving to Firefox.

I know that some of the key figures in the Mozilla Foundation are very young, but others have been around throughout the entire Web revolution. Hopefully, these "old-timers" will remember not only the negative lessons from the fall of Netscape but also the positive ones from its rise.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about a possible community-based project to sustain the Mozilla suite.

One of the most important factors in the initial growth of the Netscape browser was that people would use it at work and then download it to use at home. If the Mozilla Foundation wants to make sure that its market share continues to grow, I have one piece of advice: Take care of business.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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