What's Next for Firefox

by Preston Gralla

The official 1.0 release of Firefox is finally here, and it holds no surprises. It remains the best browser out there.

But here's hoping that the release is a beginning, not an end. Firefox is still a work in progress, and there's a lot that needs to be done if it is ever to gain serious market share from Internet Explorer.

The biggest issue is beyond Firefox's direct control: integration with other software. An entire industry has sprung up around writing programs that work directly with Internet Explorer, and if they don't work with Firefox, the game's over.

To take the most obvious and recent example, Google Desktop will only search through pages you visit with Internet Explorer, not Firefox or any other browser. And other software, like the superb Web research tool Onfolio, integrate directly with Internet Explorer, but not Firefox or other browsers.

People simply won't give up their browser if it won't work with other software they use all day.

There are signs, though, that fixes to the problem may be on the way. The next version of Onfolio, for example, is slated to work from directly within Firefox. And the Mozilla Foundation has said it is exploring ways to make sure that Firefox integrates with Google Desktop, and a host of other similar desktop search tools coming to a PC near you.

But there are things that need to be fixed in Firefox as well. Perhaps the most annoying thing about the browser is that when a new version is released, even a minor upgrade, your existing extensions won't work. They all need to be rewritten. I regularly use more than half-a-dozen extensions, and not a single one of them works after the upgrade to Firefox 1.0. And none of them have yet been updated.

It can also use a better cookie manager, which is rather rudimentary, and not as good as Internet Explorer's. And its download manager is also anemic.

So let's hope that Firefox 1.0 is just the beginning. Microsoft has apparently given up on browser technology, and so the for the future of the browser, turn to Firefox .

What do you think needs to be done to Firefox to improve it? Let me know.


2004-11-10 16:22:22
Extensions "breaking"
In a lot of cases, they don't actually break — but the "versions this works with" bit needs to be flipped. Unless the Firefox release has actually broken an API, all it takes is for the author to do that and repackage the extension. That's still annoying — but supposedly it won't have to happen that often anymore now that we've reached 1.0. Also, if all works out as planned, the autoupdate feature should upgrade you to compatible versions of your extensions once they become available.

So in theory, it's going to be smooth sailing from here on out. I hope practice confirms that.

2004-11-11 13:24:42
I think you are being a little too absolute in this. If Firefox doesn't have a Google Toolbar, that's okay; the Google Toolbar is mostly a way to making up for IE's deficiencies, and its useful function is available in Firefox in several ways.

This is a statistical game. If everyone who didn't have a reason not to use Firefox used Firefox, it would be sitting pretty. It's not just about removing impediments, there has to be a compelling reason to switch as well.

I guess I'm just tired of people making absolute declarations about what open source software needs to do. If it was going for 100% share -- or even Microsoft's 90% share -- then sure, it needs to be universally applicable and useful. But we're just trying to get to 10%, 20%, etc. In time, when 90% is in reach, then we start thinking about what each smaller segment needs.

But in reality, Microsoft didn't just take into account every niche (though they did to some degree) -- rather, other companies reacted to Microsoft and filled those niches. If Firefox is a compelling target, then maybe it will start grabbing some of those niches. But before it gets there it has to work on making a good experience for everyone, since it can't just be as good as IE, it has to be much better.