Up until a few weeks ago, I had no doubt in my mind that 2011 was Google’s year. Even if we put everything else aside, 2011 was the year Chrome has finally surpassed Firefox on the race to take the scene over from Internet Explorer. 2011 was also the year I switched from Firefox to Chrome, after years of using Firefox, and the last thing I remembered was Firefox 4 beta constantly hanging and crashing on my machine.
Then came MakeUseOf’s end-of-year reader poll, and I was very surprised to see that the majority of our readers thought Mozilla was the best company of 2011. Inspired by this, I started thinking. What I realized was that no matter the size of the tide Google is riding, 2011 was in fact Mozilla’s year after all. Here is why.
Came Out Of The Apathy
As mentioned earlier, I stopped using Firefox after the whole Firefox 4 fiasco. I did try Firefox 4 after it was officially out, but I had serious problems with it. I generally felt that the folks at Mozilla were so busy trying to give us something completely different, that they forgot to give us something that actually works. Firefox was enjoying a huge success, and while Mozilla were still trying to innovate, it felt like they sunk into a sort of apathy regarding their users.
In 2011, that attitude started to change. Whether it was Chrome breathing down their necks, or something else, Mozilla finally came out of the Firefox apathy and started caring. For me, this was the point in which things started to improve, and as long as the users continue to feel important, Firefox will do better and better.
Shorter Release Cycles
One of the most obvious changes Mozilla has made to Firefox this year, are the shorter release cycles. After being stuck in version 3 for almost 3 years, 2011 saw a jump from version 3.6 to version 10, and Firefox 11 is already is beta.
You could say these are just numbers, but it’s more than that. First of all, it connects to my first point, and shows that the folks at Mozilla finally changed gears, and second, almost each and every update included something significant. There weren’t major changes to the UI, but the changes were definitely not only numbers. And this is what my next point is all about.
What is the most annoying thing you can think of about Firefox? For me, it’s the excruciatingly slow launch times and insane memory leaks. Well, if you haven’t tried the newer versions of Firefox, you’ll be surprised to find out that ever since version 7 or 8, Firefox is no longer so slow to launch, and in fact, it consumes less RAM on my system than the latest version of Chrome (same tabs open, similar add-ons).
Remember how Firefox 4 used to crash? Well, not anymore. The latest versions of Firefox are getting increasingly stable, and deal with Flash elements much better than Chrome.
There were other new features that launched this year, such as Firefox Sync and Do Not Track, but many of the other improvements were not visible for the average user (which I think is a good thing, who needs a major UI change every 5 minutes?). The overall experience, however, is surprising. I must admit, Chrome is still my default browser, but sometimes I’m not sure if this is not purely out of laziness.
Renewed Deal With Google
You’ve probably heard many people saying that 2011 will be the end for Mozilla. This year marked the end of the Google-Mozilla deal which originated long before Google entered the browser scene, and had it not been renewed, would probably have had dire consequences on Mozilla. This deal with Google is a great source of funds for Mozilla, and in exchange, Google is the default search engine for millions of Firefox users.
Months before the deal was over, many were already saying their eulogy for Firefox, thinking that there’s no way Google will continue its support now that they have Chrome. But both parties were underestimated. The deal was struck again for at least three more years, and just for that, 2011 became one of Mozilla’s best and luckiest years.
Firefox For Android
Firefox for Android was launched at the beginning for 2011, and although it had a rough start, it’s been getting better and better, and has lately been optimized for tablets. Compared to Chrome for Android, which launched only recently, Firefox for Android has been around for literally ages.
Firefox is surely not the most popular browser for Android, but with 5-10 million downloads, it not doing so badly. And at least it’s compatible with Android 2.0 and up, which makes it possible for most people to install it if they so wish.
In some aspects, Firefox is still lagging behind (must we restart the thing every time we change an add-on?), but on others, it has made huge progress, and the things I mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t hurt that Google seems to be in a kind of apathy of its own about Chrome, which is slowly but surely turning into the new Firefox 4.
Many loyal Firefox users have switched to Chrome earlier this year, me included. I now find that it might be time to re-visit old friends, and see what Mozilla has been up to. I definitely plan to keep my eyes peeled, and who knows, the next time Chrome hangs or crashes, I may run into the open arms of my old friend, Firefox.
So what do you think? Is Firefox full of hot air, or are there real improvements? What will make you switch to Firefox? What has made you stick with it this long? Tell us everything in the comments.
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