back to article Firefox needs heavy hitter Linux power

In the past 20 years Linux has moved from Linus Torvalds' personal hobby to an industry-dominating force, reshaping the server, embedded, and mobile markets. Linux's growth wasn't fueled on the fumes of peace, love, and late-night pizza orders. It has been driven by the collective efforts of many corporations, each intending to …


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  1. Matt Bucknall

    Too tired for titles

    "Why? We've already seen with Linux that for all the vendors efforts to compete in Unix, the real competition - and the real money - was found in complementary software, services, and hardware."

    You've pretty much answered your own question there.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    . In mobile, things are a bit better, with a seeming convergence around WebKit.

    Bollocks, Opera Presto has the lions share of the mobile market (70%).

    Is this make stuff up on el-reg day and see if anyone notices?

    1. SuccessCase

      Opera presto is on 40 million mobile devices

      iPhone alone has sold far in excess of 60 million and is behind Android in total volume. Hmmm seems the person talking bollocks isn't Matt Assay.

  3. Jolyon

    Good article.

    Considering it's really just a simple tool for implementing defined standards it's mad that the nearest we've had to a standard browser was the dog's dinner that was IE6*.

    A rock-solid, undeniable standard would benefit almost everyone from the consumer up and would probably cost less for the organisations that have the power to make it happen than the effort currently expended on ensuring the current competing browsers are all adequately supported.


    *That is to say there was a period during which if you made something for general comsumption that was *not* happy in IE6 you were an idiot but if you made something that was *only* happy in IE6 you'd almost certainly get away with it.

  4. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Standards not tools

    Another poor piece, Matt.

    Safari's market share is down there and falling. Yes, it has a stranglehold on the shiny, shiny but if you're going to mention mobile than you have to mention Opera which is important on mobile if largely irrelevant on the desktop.

    That's what the web is about and that's where companies can get the most bang for their buck. That's where Adobe is headed and your lot: infrastructure for the toys.

  5. Cameron Colley

    I can't belive I'm about to type this.

    But what about Opera? It's well received on Andriod and has its many fans on the desktop. Sure, it's not as widely used as Firefox, but it does tend to be more secure and more innovative and people may actually pay for it. Opera also got its name seen by persuading the EU to force MS to allow a browser to be chosen. For a minority player Opera is politically pretty strong, you only have to read some comments on El Reg to see that.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Opera does not cost money, it hasn't for about 6 years or so....

      You might want to check it out, it's not even remotely similar to the Opera of 6 years back, it's now easily a match for the products of the big boys, surpassing them on features, security, performance and style.

      1. Cameron Colley

        RE: Errm

        As someone who uses Opera on and off, and has done for several years, I know very well it is free to download and, whilst I'm not keen on it myself, I know it's a decent browser.

        What I was referring to is that Opera is not open source or free and people do pay to include it on device builds.

        I can't believe my first pro-Opera post ever got such a negative response.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Say what?

    Why are you advocating another monoculture? I shouldn't have to explain this one to you.

    I wouldn't call firefox "exceptional" either. Not as a community and not as a piece of software; I've looked at the code, and it's not pretty. You know what would be exceptional? A browser that would be equally usable as a desktop build and a mobile build.

    But then again the js engines are speeding things up so much that if you don't have it you can only barely use plenty of websites, even if they present nothing that couldn't just as easily have been presented without any JS at all. Certain toolkits are getting noticeably slower possibly because the devs got faster browsers and/or hardware due to widespread "default" including of all and sundry js libraries. But I digress.

    But even so, for the sake of argument supposing such a consolidating move makes sense, I think micros~1 is actually the main blocking force. IE is proprietary but there by default on their platform so many a luser won't or can't pick something better. Meaning that just about everyone will have to support it, and since it clearly doesn't do to support only one, and heck the others are so much more quirk-free that it's no real burden, there's no real advantage to pick whichever and make it doubleplus big. Exactly because IE can't be had.

    There's a time for everything and the big bandwagoneering moment for browsers died with netscape. I don't think this is bad, per se, but there you go.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    Ever heard of Chromium?

  8. stewski

    Matt is a Chrome user?

    Slowly turns my back!

    One question, what date do you think it will be when Chrome runs a device sync ala Firefox that stores my personal data in an encrypted format and they release the source, so I can set up my own sync server? I'm guessing 12th of never!

    1. johnnytruant

      I'm not 100% sure of this

      But, Chromium (the FLOSS project Google's Chrome derives from) has sync baked in, and it's source is here:

      So, now? It's the 16th.

  9. Relgoshan

    Simple answer

    Firefox has a culture problem. It is difficult to whip their developers into a coherent working body. There is plenty of lack in documentation also. Without the large volume of assistance and funding from Google, they might have sunk beneath the waves already.

    Opera's position on Linux is very interesting. The browser does not rely on a specific graphics toolkit, and has some ability to inherit system appearance settings. Hardware acceleration is on their roadmap, but I couldn't say whether it will hit the mass market anytime this year. The bold step of opening their own app store is a good move, and it would be even better if this included monetizing apps delivered through the desktop browser. After all the company doesn't care about platform or patents, which should be good for the end user.

    I hate to think that Ubuntu is one of the movers in Linux, but we definitely need more competition and compatibility among the consumer applications. It would be great if you could just install Linux itself, then subscribe to various interfaces and app markets. If only the idiots coluld even agree on an installer, bootloader, software package etc.....

  10. Tom Samplonius

    Opera Mobile (Presto) at 70%?

    Opera Mobile is running about 21%. It looks like it peaked at 25% in mid 2009. Mobile Safari is actually about 25% right now, if you total iPhone and iPod usage.

    Opera Mobile isn't going to be able to hold onto the 21%, given that it won't ship as the native browser on any phones shortly. The pace of Opera Mobile development is staggering slow. I guess they made 4 blog posts about Opera Mobile in the past two years, and most of it was about the Symbia version.

    And apparently, the only phone it shipped natively on, besides Symbian devices was the HTC Diamond, a Windows Mobile *6* phone?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Opera Mini

      The 70% included Opera Mini, which covers ALL phones, not just smartphones, as Opera Mini runs on J2ME devices like Nokia S40.

  11. gerryg

    Appalling article

    Matt Asay supports thesis here by quoting Matt Asay speculating there

    "Though Webkit has become the unofficial standard for mobile browsers, as Don Reisinger reports, it seems to be a largely Apple-controlled open-source community, one that has the potential to leave RIM, Palm, Google, and other WebKit users constantly playing catch-up to Apple."


  12. Ian Johnston Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Firefox was good ... once.

    Now it's a bloated, lumbering lump. It seems to have suffered as so many OSS projects do from grandiose plans, mission creep and contempt for the user experience. If the developers ad concentrated on getting what's there working, rather than airy-fairy roadmaps for what they plan to do six releases down the line, Chrome might not now be kicking Firefox's sorry butt.

    I use Chrome - under Ubuntu - because it works far better than Firefox and for no other reason. I'm not going to swap back for political reasons.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Standards compliancy

    Of course, if the different browsers are standards compliant then its up to the user which he prefers.

    Ever heard of Acid3?

  14. steeplejack

    "Strategic mistake" - I don't think so!

    Why should it be a mistake for a company to have its application running in someone else's browser? Quite the opposite - we all want common standards such as HTML, and all companies want to reach the widest audience. Also users shrink away in instinctive avoidance of proprietary software. I think Matt Asay had a brain-fart today (as he often does).

  15. Homer 1

    What an utterly vacuous article

    The reason corporations rally around Linux and not Firefox, is simply because Linux powers their hardware, whereas Firefox is just a Web browser, and is of precisely zero significance to their business.

    What possible interest could any of those companies have in investing in somebody else's end-user product, especially one that has no bearing, one way or another, on their own customers' use of their products?

    The only important consideration with browsers is whether or not they're standards compliant (and multi-platform). Given that, third-parties don't really need to care about anything else.

    Here's the thing Matt, if you're going to complain about something then please try to ensure there's an actual problem first, then articulate that problem. AFAICT your article is nothing but hot air. Is Mozilla going bankrupt or something? Are people ignoring Firefox and flocking back to standards-deficient browsers like IE?

    Hardly, in fact Firefox's success has been headline news recently. Indeed it's absolutely miraculous that any independent browsers have any market share at all, given that Microsoft's monopoly ensures 90% of all PCs have IE injected into them. So for Firefox to capture 1/5th of the market anyway is simply astonishing.

    So what exactly are you complaining about?

  16. Tom 38 Silver badge

    Firefox is useless

    Firefox left running over weekend, one tab, simple HTML page, no plugins - RSS 270MB.

    Chrome left running over weekend, 15 tabs - RSS 200MB

    If I'd actually used Firefox significantly, then it's not uncommon to see that RSS rise constantly, highest I've ever seen was 1.1GB.

    Firefox - its okay, but now we have webkit, no thanks Mozilla.

    FYI, 'Firefox' and 'Chromium' are not the only fruit. Konqueror (KHTML), Epiphany (Webkit) are available for KDE and GNOME respectively, and there are many other variants. I currently use xxxterm, which is a GTK wrapped webkit with vim bindings.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Linux may be largely standardised at the CLI end of the stack - but it's not at the higher up application level i.e. gtk vs qt, gnome vs KDE - and of course the likes of Android, with a completely different non-X model.

    And in fact, at the level where it is commoditised, there's a lot that is shared with the commercial Unixes and BSD.

    Even at the low level, within the kernel, there are often multiple projects covering single features.

    Which is a way of saying that standardising on Firefox OR WebKit would be a bad idea. Would we have even seen the iPhone or Android without WebKit? Difficult to say, as Apple and Google would have put effort into improving Firefox, but my understanding is that KHTML was a far better starting point. And of course, KHTML was a Linux project.

    But more to the point, we benefit from having healthy competition, even in free software. The 'one true project' approach presumes that the one true project is going to get it right.

    (We can now see in retrospect that XUL was a distracting waste of effort).

    As for Opera - which seems to have loads of fanbois - my Google analytics say barely anyone hitting our site is using it - in fact, barely any usage from Nokia/Symbian, or Windows Mobile at all - almost all mobile usage is coming from iOS or Android. Which shows the difference between installed base and usage.

    (Mind you we're pushing Android users in the direction of Opera due to Google's SVG fail with their webkit build)

  18. mittfh

    Single browser platform on Linux? Hahaha!

    Given there are two major desktop environments (KDE and GNOME), plus a handful of smaller ones (e.g. XFCE), what are the chances of the Linux community deciding on a single browser platform? Besides which, most GNOME distros tend to get shipped with Epiphany (Webkit) and Firefox (Gecko) - with the options of Chromium (Webkit) and Midori (Webkit) as well.

    Chrome tends to be leaner and meaner than Firefox, but has fewer extensions available. My main gripe with it (apart from extensions) is that it doesn't differentiate between its processes - having a dozen processes labelled "Chrome" doesn't do much to identify which is which.

    Firefox has more extensions available, but tends to be a bit of a resource hog. It would be interesting to know the average results of the test pilot studies into resource usage during the FF4 beta programme. Providing info on resource usage amongst extensions could be useful - allowing users to see whether the vast resource usage they're experiencing is due to the browser or the three dozen add-ons they've got installed...

    It's a case of 'horses for courses' - and with MS coerced into providing the Browser Choice application which encourages users to download and use alternatives to IE (well, for everything except downloading Microsoft software, which presumably still requires IE), why shouldn't Linux users be allowed a choice of browsers?

    Personally, I use both FF and Chrome simultaneously - each has its advantages and disadvantages

  19. Tim 8

    memory usage?

    If low memory usage is most important, the lynx browser wins. Firefox really does seem abysmal at that, inflating to near 1GB with a days usage. (one or two windows, less than 30 tabs)

    Opera seems much better, though not as parsimonious as lynx. But it's worth it for the added features.

  20. edmj000

    I don't know what you are suggesting

    I have read this article a few times and still can't decipher what you are suggesting. You would like the open-source community to fork Firefox and start developing its own browser? Or you think companies should focus on funding the development of a single browser in order to consolidate efforts? I don't see how either of these would improve the browser experience for the end-user or for companies producing applications to be run in browsers. The fact that there are at least 5 dominant browsers available, 2 of which are open source, (IE, Safari, Opera, Chromium and Firefox) doesn't mean that they are each "re-inventing the browser wheel", it means they are each competing with each other which drives innovation with each trying to produce "the best" browser. It would be no fun if there was a single competitor entering the "race". Where the community should focus their efforts is with producing open standards and specifications to which producers of browsers should be striving to comply with. The problem at the moment is with IE, safari and chromium defining their own standards which the others then refuse to implement, eg webm vs h.264.

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