Firefox joins Microsoft in uncool kids class

Chrome hangs out, looks good

Open...and Shut After more than a decade of slugging it out with Microsoft for supremacy, Mozilla's Firefox now claims 24 per cent of the global browser market, according to Net Applications.

Like clockwork, Firefox gouged five per cent of Microsoft's Internet Explorer market share each year - until now.

Since October 2009, Firefox has reached a curious stasis, treading water against Internet Explorer. Microsoft’s IE, for its part, continues its slide, but Firefox is no longer the aggressor. Google Chrome is.

Introduced in 2008, Google Chrome has been on a tear, growing its market share by 254 per cent to claim 7.24 per cent market share early 2009. This should be worrisome to both Mozilla and Microsoft, but particularly Microsoft, due to the demographics of Chrome's fan base:

The cool kids prefer Chrome.

In school, the "cool" kids might have been on student council or the football team. In technology, however, they're the developers who determine the future with each line of code that they write. Increasingly, those developers use Chrome, which gives Google the pole position in its race against Microsoft to own the future of computing.

There are no perfect measures to gauge developers' browser preferences, but a few indicators point to developers adopting Chrome even more aggressively than the general population.

For example, W3schools is a popular site for web developers, with nearly 15 million visitors each month. According to W3schools data, Firefox and IE are flat to declining while Chrome is exploding, now at 15.9 per cent market share, compared to to Firefox's 46.6 per cent and IE's 31 per cent.

This is a crowd that heavily favors cutting-edge technology, and it's leaving Firefox and IE for Chrome.

Or, consider the Ubuntu Linux crowd. During the second half of 2009, Ubuntu.com traffic was 60.68 per cent Firefox, 20.21 per cent IE, and 7.63 per cent Chrome. In the first half of 2010, those numbers shifted considerably to 56.93 per cent Firefox, 18.06 per cent IE, and 14.90 percent Chrome. Since June 15, Firefox and IE have fallen to 54.26 per cent 18.09 per cent, respectively, while Chrome has risen to 17.42 per cent.

Does it matter?

Yes, it does. Just ask Microsoft. The Redmond giant grows more acerbic in its commentary on Google by the day, indicating a newfound underdog status as it plays catch-up with Google. The more developers using Google, the easier it is for Google to move the world to its cloud-based services model.

If Google can abstract away the need for a fat desktop operating system, Microsoft is toast, no matter its professed belief in self-cannibalization. Microsoft chief operating officer Kevin Turner this past week paid lip service to the cloud, but urged the company's partners to focus on the "triple" play of Windows, Office, and IE.

Good luck with that.

Tim O'Reilly suggests that we can learn a lot about the future by watching the alpha geeks today. Those alpha geeks shifted from IE to Firefox, and are now shifting from both IE and Firefox to Chrome. If the future is the web, it profoundly matters who owns the gateway to the web.

Google gets this, which is why it has invested so heavily in browser innovation and, frankly, why Microsoft can't (or, rather, won't). The web is Google's business. The traditional server/desktop is Microsoft's business. Kroc Camen's commentary on Apple and its poor showing in the browser market also applies to Microsoft:

The web is not Apple's business. The web sells iPhones and iPads and iPhones and iPads sell Macs for developers to use XCode to develop native apps, because native apps offer what the web can't. And that web, if left unchecked, threatens to remove the necessity to be tied to iPhones and iPads and Macs and XCode and the App Store. If the web gets the same capabilities as native apps, why would you buy a Mac to code in XCode and be restricted to the App Store's brick-wall approach to customer support and Apple's changing whim of what is acceptable and what is not?

No matter how much Microsoft might now wish otherwise, its business is Office and Windows licenses. Google's business is the antithesis, putting the search giant in a position to undercut everything Microsoft does by giving away things like Google Docs and operating systems like ChromeOS and Android.

Or by appealing to web developers through a killer browser - something that Microsoft fails to do, because its heart (read: profits) is not in it. ®

Matt Asay is chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development and he helped put Novell on its open-source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears every Friday on The Register.

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