Firefox and Internet Explorer: What’s Next

So Firefox 1.0 is out and it’s gaining on Internet Explorer. Cool.

I believe Internet Explorer won the browser market fairly. If Firefox displaces Internet Explorer to any significant degree, then I believe this can be taken as proof that Internet Explorer won the browser market fairly. IE beat Netscape because Netscape was technically inferior. If Firefox beats IE because Firefox is technically superior, in an uphill battle (since IE comes preloaded), then obviously being bundled with the platform isn’t guaranteed success. Which kinda messes with the whole monopoly argument.

Anyway, that’s not my point here. My point is this: What’s next?

Free software has always progressed slowly, except when they had something to copy. Unix was evolving at a snail’s pace before modern desktop OS’s showed them what was possible. Firefox has progressed at a pretty good pace (once it became Firefox and separated itself from Mozilla suite) to where we are now, with a browser that’s basically got feature parity with Internet Explorer.

Sure there are differences, but really it’s not a huge technological leap to add tabbed browsing. Microsoft hasn’t done it yet because they don’t want to, not because they can’t. That and popup-blocking (and no ActiveX) are the main reasons that people use it on Windows.

But now that we have two good competitors in the browser space, what’s next?

Microsoft has been keeping their mouth shut.. Who knows if we’ll be getting another browser from Microsoft until Longhorn is available. They certainly haven’t been talking up new browser features, so Firefox doesn’t have IE to inspire them anymore.

The Firefox roadmap is out of date, so there’s no clues there. They’ve pretty much achieved their goals for 1.0, the browser I’m using at the moment to type this. Is there a visionary on the Mozilla team?

A big difference between Open Source and commercial software development, is that Open Source doesn’t take risks bigger than one person can take on.

A commercial software company can justify spending millions of dollars to implement some feature that one fellow thought up, but that might take a team of 20 a year to implement. Try to do that with Open Source. “Hey guys, I have this crazy idea.. It might not work, but I want you all to work on it for the next year.”. Sometimes these sorts of ideas pay off, sometimes they don’t (Active Desktop).

My point is simply that I expect it won’t be until Internet Explorer has some new features that the Firefox team really gets motivated again. Let’s see if I’m right about that.