Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

The State of Browsing

There’s been a lot of noise about Mozilla lately, especially their Firefox browser. As Mozilla nears the 1.0 release of Firefox, many are noticing the sudden drop in Explorer’s numbers.

For some reason, and I have no idea why, I find browsers a fascinating topic. Perhaps it’s the web developer in me, but I find reviewing the latest stats abnormally interesting, and collecting different versions of browsers almost a hobby. (I have about 12 installed concurrently, dozens more archived.)

Anyway, there’s been a lot of noise about Mozilla lately, especially their Firefox browser. As much as I love Opera, they simply cannot compete with the word-of-mouth firestorm happening right now on the Gecko side—thousands have turned away from IE as hundreds of sites rave about Firefox. As Mozilla nears the 1.0 release of Firefox, many are noticing the sudden drop in Explorer’s numbers.

I did my own informal survey of browser stats, and found some interesting things. It seems Internet Explorer is indeed losing ground to alternative software; TheCounter shows a small year-over-year 1% drop in IE usage, and a 2% gain in Mozilla. Reinvigorate, which logs almost 50 hits a second, shows IE 5-6 at a combined 89% and Mozilla logging an impressive 5%. In other sites I surveyed, not a single one showed IE breaking the 90% barrier.

What’s particularly interesting are the server logs of web developer sites. SourceForge’s stats show Mozilla raking in an impressive 24.3% with Firefox comprising 17% of that number. W3Schools shows a nice trend toward Gecko acceptance with a beefy 19%. Looking more closely at their monthly stats, it shows Mozilla use growing every single month since January 2003 and a five-month downward trend of IE6. On graphicPUSH, whose audience I assume is well versed in technology, Mozilla actually surpasses Explorer by a hair, with Opera a distant third.

Since developers are the early adopters of new browsers, this is an excellent sign of things to come. In gaining widespread acceptance in the web-savvy world, and with the constant negative press surrounding all things Internet Explorer, it’s only a matter of time before the general online community begins adopting Firefox with open arms.

As far as I can see, there are three core hindrances to Gecko domination.

  • Need a 1.0 release. A non-beta release will lend massive credibility to the release, and Firefox will succeed where the Mozilla suite failed—a streamlined, customizable and extensible browsing environment that is not weighed down by frivolous mail applications. This hurdle will shortly be mounted.
  • People need to be aware of it. I think most people assume IE is simply part of the OS and never stop to wonder if there is an alternative. This problem is slowly being solved as the grassroots movement spreads the word. What’s interesting is that almost every article lambasting Internet Explorer’s shortcomings (crappy standards support, security nightmares, etc) makes mention of alternative browsers—Mozilla, Opera and Safari. Free press is always appreciated.
  • People need to actually download it. This is the big one. Firefox has two huge advantages in this department: it’s free (without ads) and it’s a relatively small download.

I find that once people start using it, little light bulbs go off over their heads. They see a nice GUI and huge speed improvements. If they dig deeper, they find ample customization like skins and extensions, and they start to understand the small nuances that make it a better browsing experience—the improved download manager, the intelligent bookmarking system, the automatic RSS feed discovery. Soon, IE is left to collect digital dust unless required for some crappy bank site.

Then that person tells another person, and somewhere, a web developer smiles because the online community is that much better.

commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I hate to be all “fanboi” about it, but the first time I used Firefox, it was like a breath of fresh air.

I really think if Microsoft doesn’t get their act together soon, Steve Ballmer won’t be doing the monkey dance on stage much anymore.

Ed Knittel

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Well, it should be only a matter of days before you can tick the 1st hindrance off you list. With the preview release of 1.1 out there more and more people will be talking about Mozilla. Unfortinately, all of those great extensions that folks have built don’t work with the preview release so I would suggest waiting to “upgrade”.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

With the Web Standards Project releasing their ‘browse happy’ campaign ( ) which is aimed at your regular joe, hopefully the word will start to spread…I’m not sure how heavily this is being marketed though.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Interesting. I did not even know about the Browse Happy campaign. Either they’re not doing a very good job promoting the site or I am not as in touch as I thought.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Yeah, browse happy is a pretty good campaign. I recommend that all designers and developers give a link to it, it’s really opening peoples eyes.

I think the biggest reason why people won’t try Firefox (and alternative Operating Systems such as Linux) is that they are just so afraid of change. Once people learn how to operate something and get their computer to do what they want it to do, they just sit on that knowledge and never challenge it. I recently contacted a friend of mine and tried to force Firefox onto him, and even after telling him all the extra features of Fireox and the design/security flaws of IE, he still insisted on using IE.

I think Mozilla and Browse Happy need to step up that campaign and really get the word out. There is nothing more annoying than trying to design websites for browsers that don’t support standards.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

You are right, people are afraid of change. But Firefox and Linux are two different animals. I will personally never switch to Linux until developers like Adobe support the platform. It just won’t work for me. However, Firefox is a free, readily available, superior alternative to a known problem. I think people are less afraid of a new browser and more dubious about learning something new.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

i have converted quite a few non-techy people to firefox, and the biggest reason they prefer this browser is mainly the tabs, and secondly they like the look and feel better

on my website, 32.7% of visitors use a mozilla based browser, with 62% being ie based, not bad really