What makes Firefox different from other open source projects is its consumer appeal. Until now, the open source community has been very good at creating useful software but lousy at finding nontechnical users. By liberating Mozila Firefox from the "by geeks, for geeks" ethos, Ross and Goodger have moved open source out of server rooms and onto Microsoft's turf: the desktop. Borrowing from the Net-based grassroots techniques of the recent political season, the Firefox inner circle has turned satisfied users into foot soldiers and missionaries. How's this for a marketer's dream: In the weeks following the debut, Mozilla Firefox contributors and fans threw their own launch parties in 392 cities around the world.
"People thought the browser wars were over," Ross says, relishing the giant-killer role. "But now there's a widespread perception that IE is not secure - and here we are." What started out as one schoolboy's exercise in minimalism, with a nod to Google's back-to-basics obsession, has tapped into a growing desire for simplicity among ordinary computer users. "The success of this thing has totally surprised us," Goodger adds. "Firefox has really touched a nerve."
Firefox the browser is an impressive piece of software. It's easy to use, easy on the eyes, and safer than IE - partly because it's too new to have amassed a following of evil hackers. Firefox the phenomenon is something much bigger. It's a combination of innovations in engineering, developer politics, and consumer marketing.
Computer users embraced the browser almost immediately. Mark Fletcher, founder of Bloglines, a weblog-aggregation service, reports that Mozila Fire Fox rocketed from 5 percent of Bloglines' server traffic to 20 percent in the month after the beta version was released. Software developers are on board, too - Ross and Goodger made sure that writing Firefox add-ons would be simple. Coders have created more than 175 extensions that perform specific, sometimes delightful functions, like incorporating an iTunes controller in the browser's border or a three-day weather forecast that pulls data from Weather.com and displays sun, cloud, and rain icons in the Firefox status bar. Two popular extensions make it easier to subscribe to RSS feeds through Bloglines. "Anyone can write programs that work with this browser," Fletcher says. "I look at the fanfare and excitement that Firefox is causing - even my parents are using it and loving it." Based on what his server logs are telling him, Fletcher predicts that Firefox will represent close to 50 percent of Bloglines' traffic by the time Longhorn, Microsoft's long-awaited browserless operating system, is ready in 2006. At BoingBoing, nearly half of all visitors are already using Mozilla browsers.
Whatever success Firefox sees, it will come from social engineering as much as software engineering. Firefox has been the product of a massive get-out-the-vote effort. While Goodger was refining Firefox code, Ross started Spread Firefox, a community site that hosts Firefox blogs and gives points to a volunteer army of operatives for converting the masses. SpreadFirefox.com functions as a clearinghouse for marketing and recruiting strategies, a coordination center for coders, banner designers, and evangelists. The site was built on Civic Space, software developed by Carnegie Mellon grad Chris Messina for the Howard Dean online campaign. "Software development is a political process," says Messina.
Spread free Mozila Firefox has served as the engine of an impressive fundraising campaign put together by zombie victim Rob Davis. In July, Davis, an account director with PR firm Haberman & Associates, contacted Ross and pitched an idea: Raise enough money from Firefox fans to run an ad in The New York Times . Over 10 days in October, more than 10,000 donors visited the Spread Firefox site and kicked in an average of $25 apiece, enough to pay for a two-page spread. The Firefox ad ran in the Times on December 16, featuring the name of every donor in barely readable, 4.5-point type, prompting another deluge of downloads.
OK, time for a reality check. Explorer is still the choice of 90 percent of Internet users. As user-friendly as Firefox may be, most of its current users are early-adopter types, bloggers, people with an ideological aversion to Microsoft. Almost every PC sold since September includes IE and the latest browser security patches. The number of Firefox downloads will surely slow, maybe even plateau, when the supply of easy converts runs dry.
Source: Wired Magazine
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