why google would enter the ‘fox’s den

i’ve joined the small stampede migrating from IE to firefox (yes, i sought expediency over morality and so use a PC). for me the quest was one of looking for a simpler safer browser in the aftermath of destroying work’s network with a virus. maybe many others have moved for similar reasons, but the time seems to be coming when many are switching without knowing it – because some of their more IT literate associates appear to be doing the same.

in this way, the rise of firefox is not dissimilar to the path traced by the mighty google. they both share a background of being refreshingly untainted by commercialism. pure unbridled technological willpower.

firefox are relying on word of mouth rather than an expensive advertising campaign to drive the product forward. and not just any mouths – they’ve picked the gatekeepers as their advocates. the technorati – the guys who have wrapped themselves up in their technology. the same folk that google first honed in on. hold that thought.

an associate recently asked me why i use Firefox (i’m some kind of pseudo/gray member of the technorati). apart from the tabs feature, the only other persuasive feature (well, beyond the security) is the numerous tools that have sprung up around it. so although the firefox you pull off their site looks and feels a lot like IE, it can be extended in plenty of directions. like the developer tools that let you turn off javascript or css and see what the page looks like. like the little user agent switcher that lets you enter a site disguised as a google spider and take a look at what the spider sees. or the search box that lets you directly query engines such as amazon, ebay, epicurious.

so firefox is looking at the browser in a whole new way. the browser is just a platform, like a web operating system, that is flexible enough to allow applications to be piled on top of it. what does this mean for site owners? well, rather than just thinking about features for your website, why not look for tools that could hook your audience too. then tie those tools up with the website and chances are they’ll think of you first because your sitting on their browser toolbar.

and who could already have their sights on the new firefox phenomenon? the wily google created a few ripples through the search community at the end of january by employing Ben Goodger, lead software engineer for the firefox Web browser. what does the defection mean?

there is talk of google developing its own browser. made more plausible by microsoft’s recent entrance into the search technology game. you attacked our market, so now we’re targetting yours. but is there room for a third player? also it’s far easier to change website than it is to change browser, and for all firefox’s successes, it still represents less than 10% of the browser market – the rest of it still held by microsoft.

what other possibililities? unlike many of my peers, i wouldn’t rule out google swallowing up firefox, much as it did pyra labs, the creators of blogger. although why it should go to the expense of gaining key personnel before the buyout isn’t clear.

however, a google-firefox partnership could work out better for both. some kind of google face plate that sits on top of firefox. an advanced search dashboard for those who want it. a fruitful partnership by brands that share a common cultural ethos. allowing extension developers to concentrate their energies on the single firefox browser.

what’s for sure is that two markets with lofty (partial) monopolies are set to see a period of flux over the coming months. the effects on google of microsoft search are yet to be seen and firefox will continue to erode IE and microsoft search is going to try its hardest to niggle google. but these two battles will become more closely aligned over the next few months.

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