You’ve probably noticed the coverage of Internet Explorer’s inexorable slide at several new sites. In Germany (the country that issued my passport), Firefox overtook IE for the first time. I find this news interesting because it is not that easy to explain why Microsoft can’t stop users from moving to Firefox.
However, the fact that Germany is leading in this development is no surprise for me. It is often claimed that security-aware Germans avoid Microsoft’s allegedly unsecure browser. But that’s only half of the truth considering that Firefox has now become the most vulnerable browser. Of course, most people don’t know this yet, and it will certainly take a while until Firefox’s reputation as a secure browser will be destroyed for good.
Firefox as a political statement
But this won’t really help IE in Germany and in other European countries because the main reason for IE’s bad reputation on the old continent is mostly of a political nature. The European Commission pushes this anti-IE and anti-Microsoft stance because they know that many Europeans will applaud simply out of enjoyment if one of the big animals is cut down to size. And I can tell you that the EC really needs this applause because they are bashed heavily for the bureaucracy they have created in EU countries in the last decade.
Thus, many Europeans just move to Firefox because 1) it is not from Microsoft, and 2) the Open Source browser stands for another political system. The reason why this is only happening in significant numbers lately is that browser compatibility is no longer an issue now that Microsoft is seriously trying to comply with open web standards.
Firefox success story
I think, the only explanation for Firefox’s most recent success story—and it is the same reason that made Windows big—is the plugin ecosystem. I wanted to move from Firefox to Chrome recently (certainly not because of performance reasons), but, then I realized that I would miss a few plugins that are unavailable for Chrome. The number of available Firefox add-ons is quite impressive and no other browser is a match for the Open Source browser in this field. Therefore, it won’t help Microsoft if they improve IE’s performance or add new fancy features. There will always be a free add-on for Firefox that copies that feature. This is a fight against windmills, just in the same way Windows competitors had no real chance to gain significant market shares in the last years.
I don’t feel comfortable anymore with Firefox now that I know how vulnerable this browser is. I am surfing in more dangerous waters than the average user because I am fishing for tools I could review for 4sysops. Thus, I would prefer a browser with a low market share. And that brings me to my last point.
I believe that Mozilla can’t really handle Firefox’s success. The more popular the browser has become for users, the more bad guys got interested in the Open Source browser. And since anyone can search for vulnerabilities in the code (and usually only the bad guys have the time and the energy to do so), it is not that difficult to find the next security hole. Furthermore, Mozilla doesn’t have Microsoft’s resources to fight against the growing armada of hackers out there.
I have already outlined a while back why I think that IE is the best choice in corporate environments (see the links in the article). Now we can add an additional argument. Since Firefox is now almost as popular as IE, the Mozilla browser has finally lost the advantage of being an underdog that is neglected by hackers and crackers. Obviously, the Mozilla guys can no longer cope with the growing number of security hole searchers. From a hacker’s point of view, it now makes much more sense to scan the source code for undetected vulnerabilities instead of dealing with the new protection mechanisms that Microsoft has added to IE lately. The IE vs. Firefox question has now become a no-brainer for corporate environments.
IE’s powerful remote management features simply outweigh the plugin ecosystem in corporate networks. Firefox is an option only if it offers add-ons that your users really need for their work. Of course, if security is most important for you, you would always go for the new underdog, Chrome, or perhaps for the everlasting underdog Opera. I wouldn’t consider Safari because it is almost as vulnerable as Firefox.