Can the new Firefox Quantum regain its web browser market share?

When Firefox was introduced in 2004, it was designed to be a lean and optimized web browser, based on the bloated code from the Mozilla Suite. Between 2004 and 2009, many considered Firefox to be the best web browser, since it was faster, more secure, offered tabbed browsing and was more customizable through extensions than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. When Chrome was introduced in 2008, it took many of Firefox’s best ideas and improved on them. Since 2010, Chrome has eaten away at Firefox’s market share, relegating Firefox to a tiny niche of free software enthusiasts and tinkerers who like the customization of its XUL extensions.

According to StatCounter, Firefox’s market share of web browsers has fallen from 31.8% in December 2009 to just 6.1% today. Firefox can take comfort in the fact that it is now virtually tied with its former arch-nemesis, Internet Explorer and its variants. All of Microsoft’s browsers only account for 6.2% of current web browsing according to StatCounter. Microsoft has largely been replaced by Google, whose web browsers now controls 56.5% of the market. Even worse, is the fact that the WebKit engine used by Google now represents over 83% of web browsing, so web sites are increasingly focusing on compatibility with just one web engine. While Google and Apple are more supportive of the W3C and open standards than Microsoft was in the late 90s, the web is increasingly being monopolized by one web engine and two companies, whose business models are not always based on the best interests of users or their rights.



The fight against the monopolization of the web has been led by the Mozilla Foundation, which was set up when Netscape open sourced its code in 1998. The Foundation is a non-profit organization which produces free and open source software and is dedicated to maintaining a free and open internet, as stated on its web site:

Our mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. An Internet that truly puts people first, where individuals can shape their own experience and are empowered, safe and independent.

The Foundation works very hard to promote the use of Internet standards and advocate for user privacy and security. While the majority of Mozilla’s revenue comes from Yahoo!, Google, Yandex and Baidu who pay for their search engine to be used as the default, Mozilla makes it easy for users to select their own search engine such as, so their search data isn’t collected and monetized through targeted advertising. In contrast, Chrome and its open source variant Chromium are designed to suck up as much of users’ personal data as possible by Google.

After Microsoft defeated Netscape in the browser wars in the late 1990s, the Mozilla Foundation prevented Microsoft from turning the www, HTML, JavaScript and CSS into its own proprietary standards. Every internet user on the planet owes Mozilla a deep debt of gratitude, but people’s memories are short. Most non-technical people use whatever program is already installed on their devices, and most techies choose Chrome because of its speed, security or its extensions. Both groups are not mindful of the consequences of allowing a company like Google to monetize their personal data and the danger of allowing Google to gain a monopoly over the internet.

Unfortunately, using Firefox has become a real chore in recent years. It suffers from memory leaks and can be less stable than Chrome. Users report having to periodically kill Firefox, because JavaScript in the web browser starts consuming 100% of the processing cycles on the CPU or memory leaks have caused the browser to eat 100% of the available RAM. Some web sites aren’t designed to be compatible with Firefox, whereas they display without problems in Chrome. Firefox used to be the darling of web developers, but the Firebug extension is no longer being developed and most programmers now consider Chrome’s DevTools to be better than the Firefox Debugger.

It is disheartening that Chrome/Chromium has become so much better technically than Firefox. Google’s business model based on monetizing people’s personal data carries the risk of leading us into an Orwellian future, where our information is used against us by both little brother (private companies) and big brother (the 3 letter government agencies).

It is not surprising that so many geeks and techies switched from Firefox to Chrome due to its superior performance and growing market share. Nonetheless, it is sad that they feel so little loyalty for a Foundation which has been struggling for their digital rights for so long. Even on the technical merits, technophiles should have been enamored by what the Mozilla Foundation has done with WebAssembly, WebVR, and the Rust programming language. WebAssembly makes it possible to run programs inside the web browser at the speed of a desktop application. Imagine being able to play a first personal shooter game with high-resolution graphics inside your web browser. Rust provides multi-threading, security, and high level features from newer programming languages, but at the speed and memory usage of C.

For years Firefox’s performance has been falling behind Chrome, but it is not easy for a small organization like Mozilla to marshal the resources and programming talent to overhaul the code and catch up with Chrome. Firefox contains 7 million lines of code, and that code base can’t be changed overnight. Mozilla started developing Servo, its new experimental web engine, in March 2012. Only now after 5 years of development are many of the ideas from Servo starting to be incorporated into Firefox as components that Firefox calls “Quantum”. Unlike the old Gecko layout engine in Firefox which is programmed in C++ and only uses one processing core, Servo is programmed in Rust and uses multiple processing cores at the same time to speed up the rendering of web pages. Firefox 57 which was released last week contains the new Quantum CSS engine, but other Quantum components will be included in the coming year. Firefox 57 is now twice as fast as it was six months ago, and now competes with Chrome in the speed it renders web pages. It also uses 30% less memory than Chrome. The Mozilla Foundation predicts that the speed will double again in 2018, as more Quantum components are incorporated into Firefox.

Firefox 57 is arguably already superior to Chrome on its technical merits, but the incorporation of more Quantum components over the next year will blow away Chrome in terms of performance. It will probably take the Google programmers several years to catch up to the multi-core processing of Quantum components. Hopefully, this technical lead will help Firefox recover some of its lost market share. This is important, not only to prevent Google from monopolizing the web browser market, but also because gaining market share will give Mozilla more leverage to push for a free and open internet and the digital rights of users.

Sadly, being faster and using less memory may not be enough to regain Firefox’s lost market share. Firefox will lose some of its long-time users, because it is ending support for its XUL extensions, so it will not long be possible to customize many parts of the Firefox interface. The new extensions framework, WebExtensions, makes it possible to use extensions from Chrome and Opera with a little adaptation, but people may see less reason to choose Firefox, now that it can’t be customized any more than other web browsers. Basically, Firefox is trading security and performance for customization and extensibility, and not all users will be happy with that tradeoff.


The bigger challenge is the fact that the world is moving toward mobile devices, where Firefox doesn’t have much of a foothold. Most usage of Firefox occurs on Windows devices, but Windows devices only represent 37.0% of total web browsing in 2017, according to StatCounter. Firefox is the dominant web browser in Linux, but Linux devices only represent 0.77% of total web browsing. Firefox is being relegated into a smaller and smaller niche as mobile devices replace PCs as the dominant type of computer.

Use of Firefox on mobile devices is now growing, but it still represents just a tiny fraction of the market. According to StatCounter, Firefox’s share of mobile web browsing increased from 0.06% to 0.45% between July and October of 2017. It is very difficult for Firefox to become a significant player in mobile web browsing, due to the stranglehold that Android and iOS have over mobile phones and tablets. Android devices are designed to use Google Web Services which have been optimized to run on Chrome. Apple wants to maintain control over the user experience on its devices, so it won’t encourage the use of 3rd party browsers on its devices. Samsung, LG and Alibaba offer their own web browsers for mobile devices, but they are based on WebKit, not Mozilla’s Gecko engine.

Most people traditionally installed Firefox by going to and downloading it, but the move to locked-down devices and software repositories managed by Google, Apple and Microsoft is making it increasingly difficult to install Firefox. The Windows Store bans all web browsers that don’t use EdgeHTML, which is Microsoft’s HTML and JavaScript rendering engine. Microsoft purportedly restricts the use of other web engines for security reasons, but that restriction conveniently locks out better performing web engines from Microsoft’s rivals. Users of Windows are being told that it is dangerous to install software which doesn’t come from the Windows Store, since it hasn’t been vetted by Microsoft for malware. Even worse, the new Windows 10 S operating system prohibits the installation of any apps which do not come from the Windows Store, so it is impossible to install Firefox on devices running Windows 10 S.

Apple has a similar policy of prohibiting all web browsers on the Apple Store which don’t use Safari’s WebKit engine. For years, this policy effectively locked Firefox off iOS, since Firefox could only be installed by jailbreaking Apple devices and then sideloading the app. Opera got around this restriction by rendering web pages on their servers and sending images of the pages to iOS devices. Due to the restrictions Apple has placed on Opera, the development of Opera on iOS has largely ground to a halt with only a few security updates in 2017. In 2014, Mozilla gave in to Apple’s restrictions and created a version of Firefox based on Safari’s WebKit. This places Firefox at the mercy of Apple, which can take measures such as not allowing users to open links with a third party browser, if the particular browser isn’t explicitly named in the app’s code or restricting 3rd party apps from using its fast Nitro JavaScript engine, as it did in iOS 7.

Mozilla will be forced to also create a version of Firefox based on Microsoft’s EdgeHTML if it ever hopes to be included in the Windows Store. In other words, Firefox on iOS (and probably on future Windows S devices) will be little more than a skin for Safari (and probably Edge), so there will be little reason to choose it over Apple’s or Microsoft’s web browser, because it can’t take advantage of Mozilla’s superior Quantum components. Even worse is Google’s policy of prohibiting the installation of 3rd party web browsers on Chrome OS devices. Firefox simply can’t be installed on any Chromebook.

These underhanded practices should be prohibited in a sane world, but the US government’s enforcement of anti-trust law has been almost non-existent under recent Republican administrations, so there is little hope that the Trump Justice Department will do anything about the anti-competitive policies of Microsoft, Apple and Google that discourage the use of Firefox on their operating systems. The EU is more proactive in forcing “dominant” companies to follow fair business practices with smaller competitors. The EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in charge of competition policy has been fining companies like Google billions of dollars for their anti-competitive practices, but she is unlikely to do anything about the web browser market. Microsoft, Apple and Google can effectively argue that Windows 10 S only runs a tiny fraction of PCs, iOS only runs 18% of the world’s smartphones, and Chrome OS only runs 3.5% of the PCs sold in 2016, so it will be difficult to argue in court that these restrictions should be prohibited under antitrust law.

Mozilla doesn’t need to become the gorilla in the room like Microsoft was in the late 1990s or Google is today in order to be influential in the fight for a free and open internet. It just needs a large enough percentage of the web browser market that every web site has to take it into account. Apple devices only account for 15% of web browsing, but that was a large enough percentage that when Safari stopped supporting Flash, most web sites started getting rid of Flash or offering an alternative. If Firefox’s market share can grow to double digits again, it will have enough weight to not be ignored when it pushes for better standards on the internet and greater user rights. Unfortunately, new Quantum components and the innovative use of WebAssembly, WebVR and Rust may not be enough to increase Firefox’s market share, when it is facing so many anti-competitive barriers in the tech industry. To maintain its influence over the development of the web, the Mozilla Foundation will need the support of millions of passionate users who not only appreciate the technical benefits of its software, but also the Foundation’s advocacy for their rights on the internet.

If the Foundation is going to maintain its influence and be able to effectively fight for a free and open internet, it must be able to reach outside of its current niche as alternative desktop web browser. That niche is still enormous, but it is shrinking. Only about 8 of the roughly 100 million daily users of Firefox are on mobile devices. The problem is that mobile devices running iOS and Android are tightly linked to Safari and Chrome, and neither Apple nor Google want their users to switch to an alternative browser. Unlike Apple, Google can’t be too blatant in its efforts to sideline third-party browsers, out of fear of provoking antitrust regulators. Nonetheless, most Android devices are designed to use Google Web Services and those services run well on Chrome, so few Android users are going to take the time to search for Firefox on the Google Play Store and install it.

After the failure of Firefox OS to establish an alternative mobile operating system, the Mozilla Foundation is now considering other ways to get its browser installed on mobile devices. If people aren’t going to actively download and install the Firefox app on their mobile devices like they do on PCs, then another route to gain market share is to convince mobile device manufacturers to preinstall Firefox on smartphones and tablets. The Mozilla Foundation is considering sharing its revenue from search engines with device manufacturers who preinstall Firefox. Giving up a portion of its search revenues would be a bitter pill to swallow, especially after the Foundation shut down the development of vital projects like Firefox OS and Thunderbird, because it didn’t think it could keep funding them.

Nonetheless, paying device manufacturers may be the most effective way to get Firefox on a significant portion of smartphones and tablets and to make Mozilla relevant in the mobile age. For years software companies have been paying PC makers to preinstall their software. Many of those same companies probably could be induced to preinstall Firefox for a share of the search revenue from Google, Yahoo, Yandex and Baidu. Most device makers, including LG, Sony, Lenovo/Motorola, HTC and Blackberry Limited, loose money on every smartphone they sell, and many of them are eager to loosen Google’s stranglehold over the software on their devices, so Mozilla might be able to induce them to preinstall Firefox.

Another idea that the Mozilla Foundation is considering is the creation of a membership plan. In the same way that the American Association of Retired People (AARP) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) are membership organizations that provide perks for their members and lobby for their interests, the Mozilla Foundation is discussing the idea of creating a membership plan that would provide services to members, but also flex political muscle advocating for user privacy, encryption, net neutrality, etc. Currently, the Mozilla Foundation employs a team of 8 lobbyists in the US and EU, but it could have a much larger voice if could represent millions of users in the political sphere. Users desperately need an advocate to push for their rights in a world increasingly dominated by the commercial interests of a handful of tech giants. If the Mozilla Foundation can be transformed into a membership organization and advocacy group, it will be much better at maintaining the loyalty of its users and its browser market share.

It is unclear at this point whether any of these ideas will become reality, but they show that Mozilla will not go quietly into the night without a fight. The very fact that Mozilla is still struggling and still pushing for a free and open internet should be a rallying cry to us all to not give up in the fight for our digital rights.


23 thoughts on “Can the new Firefox Quantum regain its web browser market share?

  1. PG

    Regarding “Firefox simply can’t be installed on any Chromebook.”, I’m running Firefox for Android on my Chromebooks, and it works fine. Since it registers as html and http(s) handler, Chrome even asks me what app to open a new page in.

    The only downside is that Firefox/Android isn’t optimized for large screens yet.


    1. amosbatto Post author

      Thanks for point that out. It looks like you can install the Firefox Android app in ChromeOS 53 or later, which was released in September 2016. So if you bought your Chromebook in the last year or your Chromebook can be upgraded, then you can install Firefox.


  2. Sam

    This is a strange question. The only reason that Quantum’s performance boost would bring people back is if performance issues were the reason they left.

    I know lots of people who left Firefox, but I don’t know a single person who did it because of performance. I know people who left because of usability, extensions, dev tools, native integration, power consumption, the weird commercial third-party stuff that Mozilla has been shoving into Firefox, or even just because they want to use the same browser as they do on iOS.

    Performance was not the biggest issue with Firefox last year, and so improving the performance isn’t going to bring users back this year.

    I suspect what happened is this. The Mozilla people did some user surveys, and users didn’t want to get into all the little things that annoy them about Firefox, so they used the generic excuse “Firefox is slow”. That’s the traditional rationale for switching to Chrome, after all. Firefox developers took it literally, even though it wasn’t meant that way.

    You can see American car companies flailing around in exactly the same way. Their advertisements address all the traditional reasons why people wouldn’t buy American cars (safety, reliability, fuel economy, price, awards, etc) but still don’t make me or any of my friends actually want to buy an American car. Those attributes they improved are necessary but not sufficient. A 2017 Ford is no longer the temperamental fuel-guzzling deathtrap that a 1980’s Ford was, but I’d still rather buy a Honda.

    Or more simply: as per Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, the answer is obviously “no”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Think!!

      I think that is true for a lot of power user that lelft the last year perhaps. All my friends, that do not program websites or develop computer programs,left because of the speed up and the non-crashing of the whole browser in chrome. They do not care about commercial integrations, love the idea of having pocket directly in your browser


    2. Homer

      The vast majority of people I know use Chrome for absolutely no other reason than that it had been subtly force-fed to them by the almighty Google, and factors such as “performance” probably never once entered the equation as far as they were concerned. We all need to be deeply concerned about just giving a monopoly to Google. Unless you like Larry and Sergei as your big brothers. And Firefox Quantum has been very good to me.


  3. Lupus

    Thanks a lot for a neutral reporting. the article explains it very well why Firefox has difficulty to regain its market share on different devices. Because of my job, I have to test my work with all available browsers. Yet, I am using Firefox on daily bases both on my laptop and smartphone, I guess, I am an outlier : ) My first web-browser was Netscape Navigator and then Communicator (4), after the latter was discontinued, I changed it to Firefox after Mozilla gracefully released it to happy and loyal users like myself. Thank you Mozzila team for all what you have been doing during all these years!!!
    P.S. Disclaimer: I am in NO ways affiliated with any of the organizations cited above, Netscape Communications Corporation or Mozzila.


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  5. Tati

    I have been using Firefox on Windows, desktop Linux and Android for the last 5-10 years. The feature that it is open source and not Google made makes me like it. Also the feature to synchronize history, bookmarks and passwords between devices is a good thing, I use it daily.
    But to be honest, removing support for XUL, kills my favorite extension – the tab groups -, which earlier used to be a feature in Firefox, which was removed and somebody readded it via an extension. The extension will not be supported for the new API, so I disabled updates on all my devices to stay on version 56. This is only a temporary solution until I figure out how to overcome this situation. It already occurred to me to switch back to Opera… By removing features this way you risk losing the rest of your users. That is the sad truth 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stan

      That is the reason for me. I used Firefox as my default browser on all computers both Linux and my occasional windows use from 2004 until 57 Quantum.
      Now I use Waterfox a legacy Fiefox that supports XUL and still gets security patches.
      BTW I use Chrome, Opera , Palemoon, Brave, the .. Debian browser, Firefox Developer edition and several other browsers since I develop websites.


  6. AC

    I went back to FF52.5 ESR after using FF57 for about a week. Two big reasons: NoScript 10.x is (for FF57) unusable and badly broken, and FF57 consistently fails to save pages.

    FF52.5 ESR has flaws, but they can be lived with.

    FF57 was not ready for release, is still not fit for use, and I have little doubt that it will drive people away from Mozilla’s browser.


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  8. pravin

    Firefox is dead to me because I can’t use flashgot extension. Now moved to waterfox and also using flareget in Google chrome. I know many who are fed up with no downthem all extension.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. amosbatto Post author

      Thanks Homer for catching all the words I misused/misspelled. I have changed them. I just noticed that I called it the National Rife Association instead of the National Rifle Association.


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  10. Eddie Young

    Been a FF user since about v2 but now also moved to Waterfox.

    Not enough that FF Quantum broke extensions like TabMixPlus but it also forced an ‘upgrade’ of Roboform to v8 which is a horrid thing and simply no longer fit for purpose.

    I appreciate the work that’s gone into into FF in the past but for me Quantum is an ‘upgrade’ too far and may be the beginning of the end for FF, I know for sure I won’t be going back.


  11. DigNap15

    I have been on Firefox since version 3.
    I am not a Power User
    I do not like Chrome is its very plain, and I do not trust Google.
    But as a Windows 10 desktop user Firefox has many problems for me.
    It seems that webmasters check that their site works on Chrome and that’s it.
    I use many sites that just do not work properly on Firefox.
    For things like Log Ins, Printing Pages (from new sites), Captchas when trying to post a message.
    I report this to the sites, and they just say its working fine.
    So unless Firefox can make Quantum more Wc3 compliant and get a bigger market share so that webmasters will check that all of their features work, I will have to leave it soon.


  12. c0f5502f-72e1-4665-a394-15f5bef5e1d8

    Yeah, Mozilla is all about privacy and security right up until they find out you donated some money to a political issue they don’t like (so awful it got 45% of the vote in California) – then you’re to be burned at the stake.

    They’re also so strapped for cash they have multiple employees who sole job is “diversity”, and have time to try and fight “fake news” which I’m sure will be entirely unbiased and even-handed.

    Despite all this, I had my old Firefox profile still around so decided to install quantum to see what the extension situation was – 18/21 of my extensions were not usable. What a joke.

    Finally, everyone here has been misspelling “Mozilla” (including me) – they preferred to be called “Moz://a” if you haven’t heard.

    Moz://a deserves to die. They’ve compromised their core principals and willingly thrown away Firefox’s unique advantages.


  13. DigNap15

    Somehow Mozilla need to explain the benefits of not being on Chrome.
    I agree its not about performance.
    But seeing as so many websites I use do not work well on Firefox (login, captchas, printing etc) I am going to try Edge for a while.



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