At the end of 2008, Firefox was flying high. Twenty percent of the 1.5 billion people online were using Mozilla’s browser to navigate the web. In Indonesia, Macedonia, and Slovenia, more than half of everyone going online was using Firefox. “Our market share in the regions above has been growing like crazy,” Ken Kovash, Mozilla’s president at the time, wrote in a blog post. Almost 15 years later, things aren’t so rosy.
Across all devices, the browser has slid to less than 4 percent of the market—on mobile it’s a measly half a percent. “Looking back five years and looking at our market share and our own numbers that we publish, there’s no denying the decline,” says Selena Deckelmann, senior vice president of Firefox. Mozilla’s own statistics show a drop of around 30 million monthly active users from the start of 2019 to the start of 2022. “In the last couple years, what we’ve seen is actually a pretty substantial flattening,” Deckelmann adds.
The decline and potential demise of Firefox is a massive problem that everybody seems to be kind of tiptoeing around, too afraid to acknowledge that if Firefox were indeed to disappear, we’d be royally screwed. We’d end up right back where we started 20 years ago, with Chrome being the new IE6, but with the big difference that Chrome isn’t bad enough yet for people to care.
The situation is especially dire for the Linux world, and I feel like a lot of Linux users, developers, and distribution makers simply aren’t thinking about or preparing for a future where they can’t rely on Firefox anymore. Aside from Firefox, there really isn’t any browser out there that takes Linux seriously, and this is a big problem. Chrome is a disaster on Linux – it doesn’t even do something as basic as video acceleration unless you use one of the third party, custom maintained versions of Chromium, and, of course, it’s a vessel for Google’s advertising business. Things like the Gnome Browser or KDE’s Falkon can barely be taken seriously, and on top of that, are based on Apple’s WebKit, which isn’t a great position to be in either – and that’s it. There’s nothing else.
The desktop Linux world is playing with fire by being so reliant on Firefox, and now that Firefox and Mozilla seem to be in some serious dire straits, I’m dumbfounded by the fact nobody seems to be at all preparing for what happens if Mozilla ever truly goes down.