Firefox, the open source browser launched in 2004, appears to be losing some of its luster, according to a new set of data crunched by NetApplications. Since November of last year, Firefox has watched its market share fade, dropping in popularity three months in a row for the first time in its history. New February numbers now place the upstart browser at 24.23 percent. That leaves Firefox a hair under the 25 percent mark that has long eluded the team at Mozilla, the company that manages Firefox.
No one is waving the white flag. Firefox still occupies a comfortable second place in the browser wars, well behind Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but leaps ahead of Google Chrome (5.61 percent in February) and Safari (4.45 percent in February). Moreover, the Firefox add-on trade is bustling, always a good indication of browser strength. According to Mozilla, more than 1.8 billion adds-ons have been downloaded, with 153 million currently in use.
Still, the numbers are grim for Firefox, which appears to have lost ground to Google Chrome, another open-source browser that went into wide-release in 2008. "[I]f the last three months are any indication, Firefox will never hit that 25 percent market share mark that looked all but certain just a few short months ago," writes Emil Protalinski of Ars Technica.
In a blog post published today, Protalinski suggests that "Mozilla may have to start advertising its browser as much as Google does Chrome (on Google.com, YouTube.com, and so on) or even striking distribution deals with [equipment manufacturers] like Google did with Sony in September 2009." Google has aired several surprisingly clever Chrome ads, such as this one. As Protalinski points out, in late January, Mozilla unveiled Firefox 3.6, but even that upgrade hasn't been enough to raise company fortunes.
So what's up with Firefox? Some analysts see it as just a case of the Next Big Thing – Chrome is shiny, fast, and buzz-worthy. Moreover, writes OStatic's Sam Dean, "Google continues to upgrade Chrome at a very rapid pace, reminiscent of the pace that Mozilla updated Firefox at for years. Mozilla has said that it won't continue to deliver Firefox upgrades at that pace, which could be an opportunity for Google and Chrome."
[Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated Firefox's market share compared to Internet Explorer. It is well "behind" IE.]