Mozilla and its Firefox Internet browser are familiar household names for many worldwide. While some maintain their use of Internet Explorer and others have migrated to using a Chrome browser, Firefox remains the browser of choice in many very different countries, such as Indonesia and Germany. What maybe you might not know is that Mozilla is a free software community which produces, develops, spreads and supports Mozilla products, thereby promoting exclusively free software and open standards, with only minor exceptions. The community is supported institutionally by the Mozilla Foundation and its tax-paying subsidiary, Mozilla Corporation.
According to George Anders (2015) writing for MIT Technology Review, due to the growth of the mobile industry, Mozilla faces a hellish challenge ahead. As “Anders reports:
“Most of the world now gets online on mobile devices, and about 96 percent of smartphones run on either the Apple iOS or Google Android operating systems. Both of these are tightly controlled worlds.”
Why is this a problem for Mozilla? Well, Mozilla isn’t the browser of choice on smartphones at all, and it has a problem in getting itself onto smartphones. This threatens the organisation’s survival. If you think about it when you buy an Apple product, Safari is already loaded. Equally Google has sewn up the Android browser market. Mozilla’s Firefox is struggling to get a look in. Even operating systems that existed before on Windows and BlackBerry phones have “largely fallen by the wayside”. People typically use the browser that is provided on their phone rather than downloading another, and therein lies the problem, or one of them.
Mozilla And The Challenge Of A Decentralized Web
One of the main problems that has led to this has been Mozilla’s strategy and whole mode of being. As explained, developers are less interested in working on open source platforms than they were, and instead now seek to get a coveted place in a Google or Apple digital shop. However, Mozilla is fighting back, arguing that web openness is at risk, as is decentralisation and the ability to publish without asking. That is, according to the chair of Mozilla anyway. The direction for the internet is believed by Mozilla to “suck”. Mozilla is fighting hard to keep the Internet accessible and open to all. They even published a Mozilla Manifesto that aims to promote more openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web.
However, given its non-profit mode of operating, Mozilla is under-resourced to be able to challenge what has quickly become the internet status quo on smartphones. Nonetheless, Mozilla has been making efforts to tackle this situation. It has received help from Telefonica who aim to install Firefox OS on a new generation of telephones that will be sold in Latin America. Solving some of the difficult challenges faced for Mozilla in terms of development was aided by the fact that it does have an open source network.
One such issue is the fact that Latin Americans have a need for FM radios included in their smartphones, and this is explained to have created development complexities. The organisation has worked to create a suitable swipe function as well as 600 emoji and a typeface that is unique to Firefox phones. All of this is helping Firefox to move forward.
While there were concerns in Mozilla that Firefox mobile displays would not be able to equal iPhone for design, this has been thought to be offset by the fact that cost is significantly lower, while performance is similar to both Apple and Android. Firefox OS powered phones subsequently were sold in Spain, Colombia and Venezuela in 2013. The organisation has since developed partnerships in more than 20 countries including India and South Africa, as well as South Korea.
One challenge that Mozilla has faced is the fact that Google has entered the cheaper sector of the smartphone market. Mozilla had been of the belief that this would not be possible, given the complicated nature of the Android operating system. This has created competition in a market where Mozilla had felt less threatened. As a result, estimates have shown that Firefox is set to gain up to one percent of the global smartphone market in 2015.
Of course, this figure is quite low, and one of the problems is that Mozilla does not have the marketing powerhouse of Google or Apple to support it. Another of the reported problems is that performance is not necessarily optimal across all sites that a user may want to access, and that is far from ideal. There are also other problems such as the lack of integration between maps, speech recognition and directions among others, that are all readily available on other types of phones. This is achievable on the Firefox powered phones but much harder to do so. With these types of usability challenges, Mozilla arguably has an uphill battle.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.