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Departing Firefox chief takes shots at doomsayers

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 23, 2015
Mozilla's head of Firefox took shots at doomsayers this week, calling those who wonder whether the iconic browser long ago peaked "dead wrong."

Mozilla's head of Firefox took shots at doomsayers this week, calling those who wonder whether the iconic browser long ago peaked "dead wrong."

Johnathan Nightingale, whose title is Vice President of Firefox, also announced that he is leaving Mozilla at the end of March. Nightingale has been at Mozilla since 2007.

"Mozilla today is stronger than I've seen it in a long time," Nightingale wrote in an email to Mozilla employees, which he also posted on his personal blog. "Our new strategy in search gives us a solid foundation and room to breathe, to experiment, and to make things better for our users and the Web."

Nightingale's reference to a new search strategy was about Mozilla's switch late last year from relying on Google for most of its income to striking deals with several search providers, including Yahoo in the U.S. and Canada. In 2013, the latest year reported, Mozilla generated 97% of its $314 million in revenue from its search partnerships, approximately $275 million from Google alone.

Mozilla is "executing better than we ever have," and "Firefox today has a fierce momentum," Nightingale said, citing Mozilla's own data.

"We're seeing the shift in our internal numbers, while we wait for the rest of the world to catch up," Nightingale wrote. "January's desktop download numbers are the best they've been in years. Accounts are being counted in tens of millions. We're approaching 100 [million] downloads on Android."

Even so, Nightingale predicted that outsiders would view his departure, and his optimism about Mozilla's future, through gloom-tinted glasses.

"When this news gets out, I imagine someone will say something stupid," Nightingale said. "That it's a Sign Of Doom. Predictable, and dead wrong; it misunderstands us completely."

But there have been good reasons for the bleak appraisals of Firefox's future.

Because browser makers don't disclose the number of active users on a regular basis, outsiders rely on data from various metrics firms, including U.S.-based Net Applications and Irish analytics vendor StatCounter, to make sense of the browser market.

That data has portrayed a dramatic downturn in Firefox's fortunes.

In the last 12 months, Net Applications' user share for Firefox — analogous to the portion of all those who reach the Internet via a desktop browser — has plummeted by 34%, ending January with an 11.9% share. Since Firefox's peak of 25.1% in April 2010, Firefox has lost 13.2 percentage points, or more than half its peak user share.

Google's Chrome has snapped up the bulk of the user share Firefox once had. In January, Chrome's share was 23.5%.

StatCounter has tracked a similar, if not as drastic, decline. As of January, Firefox's usage share — a measurement of how active each browser's users are on the Web — stood at 18.7%, for a 41% decline since April 2010.


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