Firefox Exec: Bundling? No Thanks

Internet Explorer’s web browser dominance is a direct result of being bundled with Windows. That, at least, is the charge Opera brought to the European Union, and one that the EU has decided it agrees with — it recently ruled that Microsoft abused its monopoly position in the operating system market by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows.

One of the proposed solutions apparently being considered by the EU is to force Microsoft to start bundling alternative browsers as well — Opera, Safari, Firefox — and allowing users to choose which browser they want to use when the OS is installed. That, says Firefox developer Mike Connor, is just a bad idea.

“My personal view is that it’s not the right outcome,” he told PC Pro Magazine. “The choice [when installing Windows] would be weird. There’s no good UI for that.”

Connor, who leads the Firefox development team at Mozilla, also thinks Opera’s assertion that bundling equates to market share is bogus. Connor said that the claim was now “provably false,” alluding to the fact that Firefox is above 20% share of the market and growing steadily without the benefits of bundling. Firefox does, of course, enjoy the financial backing of Google — a relationship that has recently become more complicated since Google released a competing web browser product.

Of course, Connor indicates that the release of Google’s Chrome browser was probably welcomed around the Mozilla offices. In the same interview with PC Pro, he also mentioned that Firefox is worried about becoming a monopoly. “We are kind of worried about the monopoly thing,” he said. “We don’t want to kill everybody else.”

Firefox has a long way to go to become a monopoly, but they currently appear to have a head of steam and have recently captured 20% of the browser market. Meanwhile, IE’s growth has been steadily declining. Among early adopters and enthusiast users, Firefox has a much larger following. At SitePoint, for example, over 50% of our visitors use Firefox. The addition of a viable competitor from Google to join Opera and Apple’s Safari is likely a welcome occurrence for a Firefox team worried about monopolizing the browser market.

Connor says he would rather rely on organic growth than bundling to spread Firefox’s influence. “As people become aware there’s an alternative, you don’t end up in that [monopoly] situation. You have to be perceptibly better [than Internet Explorer],” he said. For that reason, Firefox will also never likely be a monopoly — awareness about the unprecedented level of consumer choice in today’s web browser market should keep any one browser from reaching 2/3rds of the market. “Eventually people will use different browsers based on their own specific preferences,” according to Connor.

Update: Mozilla Chairperson Mitchell Baker, in a post on her blog, somewhat contradicts Connor’s notion that bundling isn’t equatable to market share. “I’ve been involved in building and shipping web browsers continuously since before Microsoft started developing IE, and the damage Microsoft has done to competition, innovation, and the pace of the web development itself is both glaring and ongoing. There are separate questions of whether there is a good remedy, and what that remedy might be. But questions regarding an appropriate remedy do not change the essential fact. Microsoft’s business practices have fundamentally diminished (in fact, came very close to eliminating) competition, choice and innovation in how people access the Internet,” she writes.

She goes on to say that Microsoft’s actions are “still benefiting Microsoft in ways that reduce competition, choice and innovation.” Nor, says Baker, does Mozilla’s small success indicate a market of healthy competitors.

What Baker says doesn’t necessarily contradict what Connor was saying — Connor didn’t actually come out and say that bundling had nothing to do with IE becoming the behemoth it is today, nor did he say that bundling wasn’t a bad thing for the marketplace. Rather, Connor said that bundling alternative browsers wouldn’t automatically boost the market share of those browsers and that bundling and market share aren’t perfectly related.

That said, it appears that not everyone at Mozilla is on the same page.

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  • ajh

    I wonder what world Connor lives in. In mine, the vast majority of Windows users are still using a browser that is inferior in almost every way – and half of them are using a version that is 7 years old.

    Firefox has taken half a decade to reach 20% and will not become a majority browser, much less a monopoly, within the forseeable future.

    In my world, even college students are still heard saying, “I used Internet Explorer. Is that bad?”

    Connor, the UI is indeed a tricky thing, and bundling isn’t ideal – but it would be a hell of a lot nicer world for us web developers if it means we could finally develop for decent browsers.

  • Jeff Walden

    Actually, Mitchell is a she, not a he.

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    @Jeff: Whoops. Change made.

  • http://lukemorton.co.uk Luke Morton

    @ajh: I know where you are coming from, IE is annoying for web designer however I would say that Firefox has come a long way and with increasing awareness of the browser alternatives I doubt people will get any more stupid. Within a few years most people will probably know what choices they have when it comes to web browsing since web browsing is creeping into a lot more peoples lives.

    Also this “cloud computing” catch phrase describing using web based OS will probably cause Microsoft to loose the strangle hold they have over the operating systems market as well.

    “Why the hell do I need to pay Microsoft for Windows, Office and IE access when I can get Linux, Open Office and Firefox for free?”

    Someone just needs to start advertising/educating the cheaper/better alternatives to the Microsoft.

  • ajh

    @Luke – Easier said than done, as the cheaper solutions don’t usually have the funds Microsoft does. Though I do hear that Opera is about to start advertising in the US!

  • http://www.mikehealy.com.au cranial-bore

    I’ve never really understood why Microsoft can’t bundle whatever it wants with its OS. Internet and Email are the first things most people do with a computer, so it makes sense to have a browser and Email client included, and I can’t blame MS for bundling their own products together. They should be perfectly entitled to do so. Just as if Opera should be free to bundle their browser if they ever wrote an OS.

  • http://deceptive-logic.com rc69

    I have to agree with cranial-bore. Being a developer myself, I know how annoying it can be to develop for IE (6+7), FF, and all the rest. However, I do understand that as a corporation, Microsoft should have the right to bundle IE with Windows and not be forced to bundle everything else under the sun with it.

    As cranial said, the first thing that users do with their computer is get on the internet. Microsoft made that easy by “bundling” (a once fully integrated OS component) IE with their OS. IE is Microsoft, Windows is Microsoft, FF and Opera are not Microsoft. Yes, it would be nice if Microsoft decided to help spread the word, but it would also be bad business.

    Simply put, I guess I am one of the few who actually doesn’t care what browser has the market share. My goal in life is – rather than spreading the word about FF – to get everybody to use one consistent rendering engine. That way I don’t have to care what browser a user is using; instead, I will worry about whether they are using a computer or a cell phone/PDA.

    Sorry if this incites one of those heated debates that I know are popular on this subject…

  • http://www.patricksamphire.com/ PatrickSamphire

    I wonder if Apple will also be forced to bundle other browsers too, as right now Macs only come with Safari. After all, if the rule applies to Microsoft, it should apply to Apple, too, right?

    I agree with Connor, actually. People who really don’t get that there’s more than one browser (and many people don’t even know what a browser is) are only going to be confused if they are presented by a long list of options. After all, what criteria would they use to choose when presented by these options?

    If you know enough to be able to choose, you know enough to download the browser you want.

  • http://www.mikedesign.net/ mauteri

    @PatrickSamphire You beat me to it! I was thinking the same thing. But then again, if IE was as decent a browser as Safari is, no one would be saying anything, right?

  • Darren

    Well, After reading a few article about this. I like the solution mention in another post.

    Alan Says:
    February 7th, 2009 at 11:53 am

    The solution, in my eyes, is to have a de-coupled IE which is just as independent from the OS as any other browser. OEMs would be encouraged (by their customers’ requirement to do so) to ship with at least one browser pre-installed. The OEMs, who make up the vast majority of OS sales, would then chose to ship a browser of their choice

    http://blog.lizardwrangler.com/2009/02/06/the-european-commission-and-microsoft/

    I think part of the problem is windows does too much. The operating system should be the operating system. People type all the time too, should Word be bundled with windows?

  • http://www.patricksamphire.com/ PatrickSamphire

    People type all the time too, should Word be bundled with windows?

    Absolutely. Most people have no interest at all in the operating system. What they want is a computer that does what they want it to do. I would guess that the vast majority of ordinary computer users want to either type stuff or go online. They want and need their computer to do that. And I don’t know about anyone else, but if I got a new PC and it had some cheaper word processor on it, I’d be pretty annoyed, because most of the time you want Word, because that’s what most people know how to use.

    Again, though, Macs come bundled with Pages, so why shouldn’t PCs come bundled with Word?