Firefox is losing users at a worrying rate and it is a serious problem for the entire technology industry that needs web browsing alternatives to Google’s dominance.
The news is not new and we have been talking about it for some time. The last time was a couple of weeks ago when our colleagues at my Linux highlighted the loss of 12% market share so far in 2021 and wondered if the loss of users endangered a highly necessary project.
If those data came from StatCounter, whose analysis model is questioned by the changes in the transmission of the user agent of the browser powered by Google for Chrome, now we get other reliable ones since they come from the Firefox Public Data Report. According to those statistics, the number of active (monthly) users was approximately 244 million at the end of 2018. By the second quarter of 2021, it has gone down to 198 million users. A huge loss in a short time.
And it is that the Network of networks needs non-profit organizations like Mozilla that bet on privacy and free Internet, and with the only open source web browser among the big ones. A key application for accessing a multitude of Internet services, the huge e-commerce market, search, and the fabulous online advertising business.
Considering that privacy-focused tools have experienced an impressive boom in recent times (just look at DuckDuckGo), after mass surveillance programs became known and the advertising industry has crossed all the red lines as the biggest violators of this right in the digital age, it seems hard to understand the loss of Firefox users.
Firefox is losing users, but why?
There are internal development problems such as the lack of significant performance improvements, the residual position of the mobile version, or the tendency to change the user experience in successive versions, something that not everyone likes. In 2020 came Mozilla’s first financial losses in two decades and the loss of talent with the abundant job cuts have not helped to overcome the situation.
However, today as yesterday, we believe that the big problem for Mozilla lies in Google’s position. Microsoft’s decision to use the open-source Chromium project for its new Edge browser has left Mozilla’s Firefox as the only major web browser with its engine, except for Safari, which is on a separate path set by Apple and practically closed to use on Macs.
Microsoft’s decision is a great victory for Google, which further enhances a privileged situation that is achieved (on its own merits) when it swept away Internet Explorer. We can’t blame Microsoft for using Chromium, a well-established open-source project that powers browsers like Chrome, Vivaldi, Opera, and others. It offers great page rendering performance, has a huge number of extensions, frequent updates, and community code improvement especially that of its main maintainer, Google.
The problem is not only the users it welcomes and who do not use Firefox, as well feared in Mozilla when Edge Chromium was announced: “Microsoft’s decision gives Google more ability to decide alone on the Web”. The result may be that web developers and businesses won’t care if their services and websites run on anything other than Chromium. That will be the ultimate downfall of Firefox.
To further complicate the situation, it should be remembered that Mozilla’s revenue is almost entirely dependent on Google. Mozilla extended in August 2020 the agreement with Google to place the latter’s search engine by default in Firefox. The deal is for three years and Google will pay between $400 million and $450 million per year, 90% of Mozilla’s budget. Considering that the previous adventure with Yahoo! and Bing ended in a fiasco, only Google is left. And if it cuts off the tap.
Dark clouds for Firefox (and for Mozilla), a much-needed development for its commitment to privacy and the free Internet, and the only open-source browser among the big ones whose future is more uncertain today than ever.