As Firefox becomes more popular, Microsoft has to respond in an effort to slow their market share loss to Firefox (see my previous blog entry about Firefox nearing 10% market share). In IE7, being shown this week at CES, Microsoft has implemented a few of the features that make Firefox so popular (tabbed browsing, RSS button, etc.) While it is great to see Microsoft adding additional features to IE, it is interesting to note that Firefox is innovating ahead of Microsoft in this area. In this case the propriety, corporate application is following in the footsteps of the open source community. Now, if Microsoft could only cultivate an open community of people dedicated to writing Firefox style extensions for IE …
According to NetApplications, Firefox hit 9.6% market share at the end of 2005 gaining nearly a point over the November numbers. This is an amazing feat for the one year old browser against a formidable competitor that has owned the browser market for the past few years.
From my perspective Firefox has a couple of key advantages:
• The Firefox community is more responsive and tends to address vulnerabilities more quickly than the leading commercial browser (see previous blog post on Fidelity).
• Firefox was designed from the ground up with today’s technologies in mind, rather than retrofitting modern technologies onto an older browser infrastructure.
Here is my New Year’s prediction:
Firefox will have 15% of the browser market share by the end of 2006 (secretly, I hope that it will be closer to 20%).
Fidelity plans to consider more open source solutions and will now give open source and proprietary applications equal weight when selecting software. What tipped them over the edge? Speed. This is the beauty of open source. The community behind popular open source products tends to respond more quickly than most traditional companies. For example, Fidelity evaluated both Firefox and IE to find that both had similar vulnerabilities; however, the Firefox community responded more quickly to fix issues.
Fidelity is also taking a more enlightened approach to open source than some other companies by showing a strong interest in community involvement. For open source software that is used extensively, they plan to have Fidelity developers work closely with the open source community to contribute enhancements and do their part to maintain community health and longevity of the product.
In The open source story of the year, ZDNet‘s Dana Blankenhorn talks about how the 2005 success of companies like JBoss & Covalent is driving open source into the enterprise with an even bigger impact expected in 2006.
While I agree with Dana and believe that companies like JBoss are driving open source into the mainstream, the use of open source in corporate IT shops is not a new phenomenon. The new part is that management now knows and recognizes the use of open source software. As those of us with system admin backgrounds know, much of the IT infrastructure software (DNS/Bind, etc.) and many of the utilities and programs used by system administrators and developers over the years have been open source software.
The difference now is that open source is moving into applications that have the attention of IT managers / CIOs. Applications like JBoss, MySQL, Apache, Linux and others are helping to bring open source software into the mainstream through their use in more IT organizations and mission critical applications. Interesting piece of trivia: What open source software powers Sabre’s mission critical Travelocity service?
Too many people tend to think of open source software as free copies of other applications with the open source application lagging behind proprietary ones. The operative word here being copy; the proprietary application with millions of dollars of corporate R&D budgets behind it is portrayed as the innovator while the little open source project struggles to keep up.
Actually, this is not the case for many open source projects, and Firefox provides just one recent example of where the open source application is leading in innovation while proprietary applications follow. Microsoft’s adoption of Firefox’s little orange RSS icon as an industry standard has been the most public example of this phenomenon (reported below in Forbes). I would argue that Firefox is innovating ahead of IE in a number of areas including tabbed browsing, security, and user customization. Because of the active user / developer communities for open source projects, innovation is a natural outcome. For more information on user innovations, I recommend reading Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel.
A snippet from the interview with Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson of Digg.com:
MadPenguin: So here you are, challenging media giants, they’re calling you up as soon as two months or so after your birthday, and what role does open source and the open Internet play in your success?
KR: From a cost point of view, they played a huge role. Community played a huge role. Open source software gave us an extremely low barrier to entry. I didn’t have to go out and license any of expensive technologies. I didn’t have the money for that. We’re talking generic boxes. We use Penguin Computing now, but back then, it was self-built, home brew boxes running Debian Linux, Apache, MySQL, etc. The LAMP architecture is our base. It was at EV1Servers.net, and they provide you with vanilla boxes for 100 bucks or so per month. That’s all you need to get things off the ground.
JA: The open Internet was also an enabling technology, because by the time that Digg started, the Internet mass audience had become more accustomed to Web 2.0 kinds of technologies. You know, things like RSS, for example, and the notion of the Internet being a two-directional medium. They “got” it that Rather than just going to a website and reading information, they were participating in that data. So Digg was following in the footsteps of Napster, KazAa, Orkut, MySpace, and so forth who had taught that Internet audience to participate. By the time that Digg started, that barrier to entry has been overcome. We had an audience that was ready for this experience. So from an infrastructure point of view, we could afford to do it, and from an audience standpoint, they were ready for it because of these revolutions that had already happened out on the Internet.
This is a community where the users get to decide which stories are important and relevant enough to make front page news, and it is built on open source software. Thanks Einfeldt for a great interview!
Rumor has it that Dell may begin shipping PCs in the UK with Mozilla Firefox preinstalled.
The Firefox phenomenon is pretty amazing (see my earlier blog entry). If this rumor is true, it raises a few questions. Would Dell expand this program outside of the UK? My experience with Firefox is that most people (even non-techies) are fast fans of this browser quickly becoming addicted to the tabbed browsing, easy to install extensions for anything you can think of, and even to the themes that allow them to customize Firefox for any mood or holiday.
What impact would this have on the market share of Firefox? This could have a significant impact on the market share of Firefox, which has currently grown to about 9% without much more than a grassroots marketing effort. Preinstallation on a leading OEM configuration could quickly bump this number up significantly.
Lately I have been hearing people use the term open source to refer to all sorts of things that are not really open source under the traditional definition. My favorite definition of open source comes from Bruce Perens in Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution. His actual definition is several pages long, but the gist of it is this: Open source refers to software that is licensed to allow developers to view and / or modify the source code and redistribute the software without restriction.
I have heard people use open source to mean giving something away for free. This highlights an ambiguity in the English language: “free” can mean both gratis (no cost) and libre (freedom). In the case of open source, the second meaning, libre, is considered more important than whether or not someone charges for the software. Richard Stallman frequently explains free software as “free as in free speech, not free beer.”
Others have been using the term open source to refer to the development process, whether or not the end product is open source using the traditional definition. I ran across this issue recently in an article about how Malcolm Gladwell was using the term to refer to the process of making cookies. The open source development process is a bit different from the traditional, hierarchical development processes used in most corporations. This was best explained by Eric Raymond in The Cathedral & the Bazaar. However, it is not an entirely new concept, since it has roots in the academic development process where researchers collaborate, use each other’s research, and rely on peer review for quality control.
Getting back to the title of this blog, Open Source: Ubiquity or Ambiguity, I am torn between whether the ubiquity of the term open source is a good development meaning that we have finally moved out of the shadows and into the mainstream or whether the ambiguity inherent in how people use open source will dilute the meaning of the term.
In response to “Linux Social Experiment…People have NO clue”
I encourage you to read this guy’s blog. He did a little experiment to find out what would happen if he used the street beggar model to help people. He went to a street corner with a sign, but rather than begging for food, money, etc. he gave out free Linux CDs.
The most fascinating part of this experiment had to do with how people perceived his actions. He held a sign that read: “Stop paying for the privilege of using your computer. Get your free Linux disks here. Ask scroungy-looking guy for details.” Most people passing by averted their eyes or handed him money (assuming that he was a beggar) without ever reading his sign! He had better luck after the morning rush hour when people took more time to notice the sign, and he finally did manage to give away his CDs.
Response to “Is Firefox the new target for hackers?”
It is true that as more people begin to use any software product, Firefox in this case, people will write viruses and other software to exploit vulnerabilities. Over time, we will see more and more programs that exploit Firefox vulnerabilities. Lucky for us, the Firefox community quickly responds to these threats with fixes and product updates. This is the benefit of having a vigilant open source community behind a product. Because the people in the Firefox community are active users and evangelists for Firefox, they are highly motivated to fix issues quickly.