Competitive Consumer Products are Hard

November 9th, 2007

One way that building a consumer product colors much of the Mozilla project is that building a competitive browser is brutally hard. It’s critical, it’s wildly exciting now, it generates astonishing commitment and bears great results — that’s why we do it. But it’s hard.

Building great products is hard enough on its own. Living within a competitive market space, as the browser does, adds another layer to the challenge. No one interested in maximizing the chances of success would choose our market space. Today the browser market looks competitive because the dominant player has “only” 75% market share. Where else does that look competitive?

Not only does the major player have “only” 75% of the market, it has unparalleled access to the established distribution channel — the hardware that people buy. Every person using Firefox has to make the decision to install Firefox every time he or she gets a new machine. That is a very hard place to be. It’s better today than when we started, but that’s only because the dominant player then had more than 90% market share and people thought it would be impossible to make any significant difference.

Other browser vendors also have some advantages we don’t. Apple for example, has exclusive control over what software is included on its hardware and has never offered Firefox. Apple has enormous resources and the ability to integrate its browser into other products. And of course Apple is renowned for producing excellent consumer products. For the future, when people speculate on who else might build a browser, some very giant companies are named. This is fierce competition.

We create browsers because it is too important to have only one or two big commercial players controlling access to the Internet. We create browsers as a public asset rather than for the private benefit of shareholders. We try to represent the quality of an individual’s online experience rather than a business plan. That’s a good cause, and extremely motivating. But it’s not enough to get 130,000,000 people to use Firefox. For that to happen we have to build a product that is better than those produced by the commercial industry leaders.

We won’t succeed because we are “OK.” We won’t succeed because there’s no other choice or the other choices are expensive. We won’t succeed simply because of our public benefit goals. Public benefit is important, it provides both direction and motivation. But that needs to be combined with a product experience that people love. We will succeed only if we create exceptional products that people choose to use over and over again.

3 comments for “Competitive Consumer Products are Hard”

  1. 1

    Scott Siegling said on November 9th, 2007 at 6:42 pm:

    A good post. I think that Apple should include Firefox with the default installation on its machines as an alternative to Safari.

    Your analysis of Apple as competitor fails to mention, however, the largely open-source nature of Safari/Webkit, which is a far cry from current and previous versions of Internet Explorer.

  2. 2

    Disbelief said on November 9th, 2007 at 7:51 pm:

    75%? Um, methinks you’re underestimating. You’re the hero(ine) of your own movie.

  3. 3

    Dave said on November 11th, 2007 at 1:23 pm:

    I’m glad to say that I’m one of those that installs Firefox on every new Windows/Linux system install. I set it as my default browser every single time.

    I would like to give Apple the benefit of the doubt but with their history it’s hard to do that. It just seems like all they want to do is monopolize every market out there (software, hardware, multimedia).

    About the “Major Player”, mainstream tabbed browsing started to appear around 1999/2000. It took almost ten years to adopt tabbed browsing into their product. Through that time, they introduced one bloated feature after another in which they ended up having to disable them by default through their system updates.

    75% sounds right, considering Firefox carries 12% market share not to mention the market share of Netscape, Opera, Safari, and a few others flying around out there.

    I can imagine what the Firefox crew is going through. It’s tough when you actually have a good, agile product when the staunch bloated foes act like ignorant children to get their way. Your crew did good, keep it up.

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