Friday, January 28, 2005
Firefox vs Internet Explorer aka Internet ExtinctionYes, you heard it here first. If Internet Explorer doesn't make some serious changes in short order they'll face certain extinction to the hands of Firefox. Why you ask? Isn't it obvious?
In order to answer that question we'll need to take a little trip down internet memory lane. Our first stop is the home of Linux founder Linus Torvalds. You see, Linus had this crazy idea that he could build a better OS than what was currently available and amazingly he did. Then he opened up his source code and the open source development movement was born. Open source affords anyone anywhere the ability to contribute to a development project or to download and use an application or source code absolutely free of charge. Many a software company lost a fortune due to the open source movement and scores more individuals have benefited from it so needless to say, it's quite a controversial subject with software firms and developers alike.
Fast forward 10 or so years and you'll see several other micromovements that look and smell an awful lot like the open source development movement. The most important difference with these new movements is the fact that they aren't just for developers; they're for the average joe and the Tiny Tims of this world. What are these relatively new micromovements? Forums, Wikis and blogs.
What do Forums, Wikis and Blogs have to do with Internet Explorer becoming extinct?
Well, in order to answer that question we must look at one other area the open source development movement has involuntarily impacted, API's or application programming interfaces. They allow a developer to access data or processes they would otherwise not be able to access. APIs allow developers to grab book and author information from Amazon.com and allow developers to see what the most popular blogs are as seen by Technorati. There are dozens more cool apis and tools built around those apis but the fact of the matter is that APIs are changing the way businesses research and implement new features by allowing them to connect with their users while at the same time conducting free research & development.
That's where Firefox, Mozilla foundation's latest browser comes in. It's the IE killer! Firefox's source code is open and there is a standing invitation for anyone who's interested to write code that enhances Firefox's already robust list of features.
When a developer writes a piece of code for Firefox it's known as an extension. Currently there are 178 and the list is growing all the time. These extensions aren't just colorful skins there much more. In fact, they're the key reason Firefox is my browser home. They're saving me time and money by encapsulating functionality I could only get before from various web sites and software. Now instead of going over to the w3c to validate an html page I just right click on the page, select Web Developer then HTML Validation and I'm automatically using the w3c validator to find all the errors on a single page. Or I could just hit ctrl + shift + v and do the same thing in a single keystroke. That's possible because I downloaded the Web Developer extension from the firefox site.
Here are some other cool features I could never easily do with Internet Explorer (in its current state) or without installing 5 different toolbars filled with features I'll never use.
- Switch user agents and pretend I'm Googlebot or Yahoo's Slurp to detect cloaking.
- Easily read an rss feed.
- Pretend I'm a user in Argentina to see if Google serves up the Polar Bear Logo down there too.
- Disable the referer info when browsing.
- View all the http headers a server returned when I clicked on a link.
- View the source code for a site in a neatly formatted text editor that's color coded.
- Show all the anchors in a page.
- Show all the heading tags in a page and in the order they're rendered.
- Validate a page's css.
- View a page's style sheets.
- Disable cookies, java, images, etc... all with a single right click.
- Save specific sessions / visits on a web site.
- Delete my downloads after viewing them.
The list goes on and on but here are a few key factors that may foreshadow the defeat of IE in the browser war.
- Firefox has generated incredible brand loyalty by allowing average folks to contribute extensions to its evolution as a browser / internet application. By opening the hood and letting developers peek inside, they're making Firefox better. Not only is this making Firefox the better browser but it's also building the type of brand loyalty you can't buy. This is something Microsoft may never been able to accomplish with its current business model (not they would want to anyway).
- Mozilla extended this grass roots approach about getting users involved down to the development of the Firefox Logo. Selecting the design team of SilverOrange to create the new logo, who then recruited John Hicks of Hicks Design, was a stroke of genius. Small companies run by individuals demonstrating the less fluff more stuff attitude and less is more approach to design / layout / media. This immediately seeded Firefox into the roots of bloggers across the web.
- Mozilla is making our lives easier by allowing us to use Firefox as much more than just a web browser. It's a validator, backlink checker, web developer tool wizard and more. This saves me time and with the tight schedule I keep, that's a huge advantage over IE.
- Extensions are easily downloadable and arranged in a way that makes them easy to find. Even better still is that I can see who contributed an extension, when and what other people's rating of that extension is. Mozilla is giving credit to the little people that are making their product better and Microsoft doesn't like to touch little people, they're icky.
- Firefox is capitalizing on the API wave and user generated content (open source) wave hitting the internet today. Combine that with a strong product that will only get stronger and you have a solid case for the death of IE.
- With the creation of the SpreadFirefox website and the amount of community feedback they're getting, the brand loyalty levels are insane.
That being said, it's also important to note that Firefox is a voluntary download. Meaning, I have to want it in order to get it on my machine. Internet Explorer ships out standard with the Windows operating system and that may very well be enough to foil the death of IE. However, good things have a way of coming to the forefront of society and my money's on Firefox. I don't believe Microsoft can mount a campaign strong enough to deny Firefox its place on our systems but I could be wrong. If you think about it though, that's MSFT's business model.
"Find the best and brightest and if you can't buy or hire them then we build a better mousetrap and use our existing infrastructure to bombard the marketplace with it. Sure we'll take a pr beating for it but that's what we hired Scoble for."
All kidding aside, its going to be an interesting 2005 on the Firefox vs. IE front. I'm not the only one talking about it either. Even BoingBoing is commenting on it. Here are some stats on the emergence of Firefox as the IE killer.
By Jason Dowdell at 04:27 PM | Comments (1)