EC Theme: How can there be a problem when Firefox has growing marketshare?

February 19th, 2009

This idea sounds sort of reasonable at first, but it’s built on a logical fallacy.

The claim is that the tying of IE to Windows harms competition, innovation and user choice in browsers. Microsoft does not need to be 100% successful for this claim to be true. A single plant growing in a toxic environment does not mean that the environment is suddenly healthy. It doesn’t mean that all concern with the environment should fade or that attempts to improve the environment should be abandoned. That plant may be prosperous, but still deeply constrained by its environment.

Mozilla is extremely healthy, but still constrained by the environment IE has created. We’re constrained in being able to reach people of course, since IE is utterly ubiquitous and hides the possibilities of alternatives. We’re constrained in other ways as well. We’re constrained in our ability to enable new innovations — we need to find ways to make the Internet continue to work for the hundreds of millions of IE users who only Windows-based distributions reach. We’re constrained in the ability to build new standards into the Internet itself. In parts of the worlds — Asia in particular — we’re still highly constrained in our ability to even display web content, due to IE specific content.

And of course, the EC’s concern is not simply whether a single, unique “plant” like Mozilla can survive and prosper against all odds. The question is whether competition and innovation themselves are being harmed.

11 comments for “EC Theme: How can there be a problem when Firefox has growing marketshare?”

  1. 1

    suneel said on February 19th, 2009 at 8:44 am:

    strong analogy. mozilla’s market share has grown despite the environment, and not because of it.

  2. 2

    Dan Mosedale said on February 19th, 2009 at 10:14 am:

    This feels like it hits the nail on the head; a very apt metaphor.

  3. 3

    DigDug said on February 19th, 2009 at 10:17 am:

    “mozilla’s market share has grown despite the environment, and not because of it”

    I’d completely disagree with this. Mozilla’s marketshare grew directly because of its environment. If MS hadn’t let IE stagnate and as a result let viruses loose on the machines of millions, Firefox’s marketshare would be far less than it is today. As a result, MS has redoubled their efforts to fix IE and to make it more relevant to the web today. In a big sense, a single plant HAS been able to “improve the environment”. That improvement is even ongoing (i.e. IE8 looks like a huge step forward for its users). I really don’t see a huge problem right now. It would be great if IE8 supported canvas, but I guess I take the other HTML5 features they are implementing as a good sign.

    What would it take from MS (short of them bundling Firefox or giving you money to shut up) to convince Mozilla that they were committed to competition, innovation, and user choice? Would a link at the top of IE that said, “Try Firefox!” satisfy you? No business (monopoly or otherwise) that I know of is required to advertise their competitors products. Where’s your outrage against Apple for completely refusing apps that compete with Apple’s products on the iPhone? There’s just so much about this that reads, “Microsoft is a big evil corporation and they should have to pay me money.” It can’t be surprising that you see a backlash or at least some raised eyebrows.

  4. 4

    Fred said on February 19th, 2009 at 10:58 am:

    Mitchell: Thanks for coming up with that metaphor. It describes the situation quite nicely I think.

  5. 5

    Asa Dotzler said on February 20th, 2009 at 1:59 am:

    I’m hearing quite a few claims from the tech press that we’ve obviously got a healthy environment because Firefox, Safari, and Chrome are all competing well against Microsoft.

    The reality is that only Mozilla, with Firefox, has actually managed to pull any significant number of users off of IE.

    It’s obviously early for Chrome, so perhaps they will, but they haven’t yet. And Safari has been available on Windows for three times as long as Chrome and it hasn’t even garnered the meager share that Chrome has.

    To those who think that “everything is fine,” I say think about the world without Firefox. Without Firefox, Internet Explorer would absolutely dominate with 97% of the Windows desktop.

    Let me say that again. Without Firefox, IE would have 97%. of the Windows Desktop.

    Yes. 97%.

    (Safari on Windows has less than half of a percent, Chrome is about one and a quarter percent, Opera is about three quarters of a percent.)

    I do not believe that “everything is fine” when Mozilla is the only thing that stands between Microsoft and it’s dominance over 97% of the market.

  6. 6

    Iang said on February 20th, 2009 at 2:37 am:

    “The question is whether competition and innovation themselves are being harmed.”

    This is based on a false hope that competition is benign, and innovation is innocent. Competition is harm by definition, the competing firms seek to harm each other, and this acts to sort out the weak from the strong; consumers want strong product not weak. Microsoft delivered stronger product in the 80s and 90s, and they did it by breaching the “false” barrier between OS and application. Now that has changed, and Microsoft is just another carnivorous dinosour that can’t cope with the rise of the mammals: p2p, cloud, security.

    Innovation is often these days considered to be “disruptive” in that it upsets the current order and destroys the older slower players. The ones who lose always grumble about it being unfair. Sometimes they are right, but it is extremely hard to think about this without having to define fairness, something that is hard to make objective. Successful innovation is mass destruction, and to talk about innovation as some sort of idyllic state of affairs that presents consumers with what we want is superficial.

    Tying a browser to an OS and an OS to a browser is as much an innovation as keeping them free from each other; it all depends what the best model is, and for that we have the market. Both models will harm each other, but pointing that out doesn’t add anything useful, nor does it give us a useful theory for choosing the “fairness” of one over the other.

  7. 7

    (iang) Why kick a dying dinosaur? said on February 20th, 2009 at 2:43 am:

    In the competition for model versus model, slashdot reports early signs of extinction:

    Windows TechForensics writes “A few days’ testing of Windows 7 has already disclosed some draconian DRM, some of it unrelated to media files. A legitimate copy of Photoshop CS4 stopped functioning after we clobbered a nagging registration screen by replacing a DLL with a hacked version. With regard to media files, the days of capturing an audio program on your PC seem to be over (if the program originated on that PC). The inputs of your sound card are severely degraded in software if the card is also playing an audio program (tested here with Grooveshark). This may be the tip of the iceberg. Being in bed with the RIAA is bad enough, but locking your own files away from you is a tactic so outrageous it may kill the OS for many persons. Many users will not want to experiment with a second sound card or computer just to record from online sources, or boot up under a Linux that supports ntfs-3g just to control their files.” Read on for more details of this user’s findings.

    Re — Photoshop: That Photoshop stopped functioning after we messed with one of its nag DLLs was not so much a surprise, but what was a surprise: Noting that Win7 allows programs like Photoshop to insert themselves stealthily into your firewall exception list. Further, that the OS allows large software vendors to penetrate your machine. Even further, that that permission is responsible for disabling of a program based on a modified DLL. And then finding that the OS even after reboot has locked you out of your own Local Settings folder; has denied you permission to move or delete the modified DLL; and refuses to allow the replacement of the Local Settings folder after it is unlocked with Unlocker to move it to the Desktop for examination (where it also denies you entry to your own folder). Setting permissions to ‘allow everyone’ was disabled!

    Re — media: Under XP you could select ‘Stereo Mix’ or similar under audio recording inputs and nicely capture any program then playing. No longer.

  8. 8

    Tristan said on February 20th, 2009 at 7:20 am:

    Great post, Mitchell!

    Asa: very good point. I think I recall (but I can’t find the source) that antitrust laws in the US consider that a company has reached monopoly situation when it has more than 66% of the market.

  9. 9

    James said on February 20th, 2009 at 8:26 am:

    There’s a simple solution (one which I’m sure Firefox developers will not approve). Remove IE from the operating system. When someone buys a new computer, he/she will then need to buy a shrink-wrapped browser (as in former times). Thus the playing field is leveled. If I want Firefox as my default browser, I simply purchase a copy. If I want Opera or Safari or Internet Explorer… same thing. It’s really quite simple and fair to all.

  10. 10

    damaged justice said on February 21st, 2009 at 7:16 am:

    Why kick a dying dinosaur:

    The only thing going extinct is Slashdot. Given the so-called “journalism” you quote, which was thoroughly eviscerated in the comments, it can’t happen too soon.

  11. 11

    Asa Dotzler said on February 22nd, 2009 at 3:25 pm:

    James, your disingenuous strawman doesn’t help the discussion. It’s obviously not in the cards except in the minds of those who would like to preserve the status quo.

Skip past the sidebar