Is Chrome another IE to Firefox?

It is tempting to think that because Google has now entered the browser market with its own browser and all the billions at its disposal to develop Chrome into the Next Big Thing, Firefox will soon find itself relegated to the role of an Internet “has been”. The problem with this line of thought is that Firefox didn’t always have 20% of the browser market. There was once a time when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had an absurd browser market share in the 80% to 90% (perhaps higher?) because it was part and parcel of every PC you bought and for most people, IE was the Internet. Firefox started as an almost insignificant browser and steadily took market share from IE at a rate that was virtually unheard of. It was even better than the stereotypical David vs Goliath match: the open source browser project versus the massive Microsoft.

The news that Google may seek deals with PC manufacturers to have Chrome preinstalled on their machines takes us back to those pre-monopoly Microsoft days when that is exactly what you found with all Windows machines. I wonder what effect such a deal would have on Firefox’s market share if this came to pass. When Firefox first rose to the fore it was in the context of a thoroughly crappy incumbent which was a virtual deathtrap on the Web and slow to respond to threats. In contrast Firefox was a hot, new, nimble, open source browser that patched holes and bugs in a matter of a day or less compared to Microsoft’s lumbering release cycles. What is the new context with Chrome in the picture? What are the arguments for sticking with Firefox in the face of an apparently faster open source browser with Google’s backing? Chrome will presumably handle extensions soon enough and there should be versions of Chrome for Windows, Mac and Linux in the new year.

At the moment Chrome is supposed to be so much faster than its competition but we have already seen a speed improvement in Safari 3.2 (even though it tends to crash a little too often to keep me committed to it) and Firefox 3.1 is promising to be a real speedster with its new javascript engine. I guess it will come largely down to personal preference and the quality of the community behind the browser. Firefox has a tremendous community of developers and advocates backing it and that has made a huge difference to its stellar adoption rate over the last few years. Although Chrome is open source (or based on open sourced code), it remains to be seen whether there will be a community of passionate users backing it to the extent Firefox has enjoyed. I am starting to think that will be the distinguishing factor for the browser.

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