With Firefox 5, Mozilla ratchets up the cadence of its browser releases-this latest edition arrives a mere three months after Firefox 4 first entered the marketplace.
For consumers, upgrading probably won’t represent that much of a hassle: You click “download,” and a few minutes later (depending on your connection speed) you’re tooling around with a new browser that, despite Mozilla’s claims of more than 1,000 improvements and enhancements, boasts virtually the same look and feel as the old version.
Large enterprises, though, are expressing some worries about Mozilla’s newfound speediness. “I have 500,000 corporate users on Firefox 3.6,” read a much-circulated comment by IBM’s John Walicki on a June 21 blog posting by Firefox developer and consultant Michael Kaply. “I’m now in the terrible position of choosing to deploy a Firefox 4 release with potentially unpatched vulnerabilities, reset the test cycle for thousands of internal apps to validate Firefox 5 or stay on a patched Firefox 3.6.x.”
Then, Asa Dotzler, community coordinator for various Mozilla projects, decided to dump roughly a gallon of gasoline on this particular fire. “Enterprise has never been (and I’ll argue, shouldn’t be) a focus of ours,” he wrote in a June 23 comment on Kaply’s blog. “Until we run out of people who don’t have sysadmins and enterprise deployment teams looking out for them, I can’t imagine why we’d focus at all on the kinds of environments you care so much about.”
Kaply felt compelled to respond: “You can’t play the [market share] card. Because even years ago when supporting enterprise meant getting a lot of [market share], Mozilla didn’t care.”
To which Dotzler responded: “Today, I argue, we shouldn’t care even if we do have the resources [for enterprise] because of the cost benefit trade. A minute spent making a corporate user happy can better be spent making many regular users happy.”
The debate erupted from there. Kev Needham, Mozilla’s channel manager, tried to dampen the spreading flames with a comment to PCMag: “We recognize that this shift may not be compatible with a large organization’s IT Policy and understand that it is challenging to organizations that have effort-intensive certification policies.”
That being said, he continued, “Our development process is geared toward delivering products that support the Web as it is today, while innovating and building future Web capabilities.”
Microsoft was quick to leap at Mozilla’s opening, with an executive very publicly asking Walicki to consider jumping back to Internet Explorer.
“Although I’m in no position to question a competitor’s approach to customer and engagement and support,” Ari Bixhorn, director of Internet Explorer, wrote in a June 23 posting on his blog, “I did want to take the opportunity to clarify the Internet Explorer team’s commitment to, and support for, our corporate customers.”
Specifically, he cited Microsoft’s commitment to the enterprise, and its support for each version of Internet Explorer “as long as the latest version of Windows that it runs on is supported.”
(Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team, it must be noted, has a tradition of sending Mozilla a cake every time the latter releases a new Firefox version. Given Microsoft’s speed at trying to exploit Mozilla’s possible public-relations vulnerability, though, we can only assume that-to borrow a famous Internet meme-the cake is a lie.)
Net Applications currently estimates Firefox’s overall share of the browser market at 21.71 percent, trailing the Internet Explorer franchise at 54.27 percent but ahead of Chrome at 12.52 percent and Safari at 7.28 percent. Moreover, Firefox’s share has stagnated in recent months, its last high of 22.97 percent in September 2010, while smaller rivals enjoyed gains over the same period.
If Mozilla indeed pursues the path of rapid releases, how will that affect its market share? And if it loses market share-either from the corporate side of things, or due to simple attrition to its rivals-will Microsoft be the one that gains?
Based on Bixhorn’s comments, Microsoft certainly hopes so.