Firefox Sets The Bar For Mac Adoption

by Chris Seibold Dec 27, 2005

When the smells of the holidays have faded, the sweet aroma of hope will linger in the air for true Mac fans. Owing to the switch to Intel processors and the increasingly likely release of ‘Books powered by said processors Mac users have been going to bed with visions of double digital market share dancing in their heads. Unfortunately, some dreams are far too fanciful to come true in the short term.

Still, Mac users devise increasingly intricate and far-fetched schemes that will surely vault the Mac back to a respectable market share. The plans include any number of factors: Macs might be able to run Windows programs as fast as a Windows based machine, Macs might be able to run Windows and OS X simultaneously, Macs might wax your car and fertilize the lawn etc. The speculation, and it is just speculation, is all predicated on one simple principle: You’ll get much more value out of a Mac and this added value will compel users to switch to the Mac in droves.

The sad truth is that most people aren’t concerned with value, they’re concerned with initial price. Those who are willing to spend a bit more to buy a better box still won’t consider the Mac. To convince ourselves of the near futility of growing the Mac market to, say, 15% let us consider the interesting case of Firefox. Firefox, for the painfully unaware, is a cross platform browser. Firefox also happens to be the most successful non-Microsoft produced browser in existence.

At this point, we must turn our attention to Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer, to put it mildly, sucks. The Microsoft browser sucks on the Mac (and is no longer supported) and it sucks on Windows. It might suck a lot less on Windows but saying the IE it isn’t the best browsing experience available is akin to calling the Universe cozy. The problem isn’t that Microsoft isn’t capable of producing a decent browser, it is more a case of delayed development. IE was supposed to be married to the next release of Windows (you’ll pay for that upgrade!) but as the ship date for Vista slipped so did the time frame for a new version of Internet Explorer.

As the dates for the new version of Windows were pushed continually in to the future other browsers surpassed the once best of breed in both features and security. It is to the point now that using Internet Explorer is akin to driving a Pinto with one spark plug wire missing, no windshield and a busted speedometer. Hence, there is little doubt that IE is lagging behind Firefox.

A lead that big is called an opportunity in the business world and, indeed, Firefox has seen dramatic gains. In October Firefox reached a market share of 12%. Internet Explorer, unsurprisingly, controlled most of the browser market with over 80% of people willingly using the antiquated program. Tech sites have been going nuts over the success of Firefox, partly out of hatred of all things Microsoft and partly because Firefox is just so far ahead. It’s a regular Firefox love fest out there. Before folks start cracking the champagne every night instead of only on New Years in celebration of Firefox a little perspective needs to be mixed in. Firefox, for all its success, commands less of the browser market than Cadbury/Shweppes controls of the soda market .

What that should tell a dispassionate observer is simple: the vast majority of people are either satisfied enough (ewww) or apathetic (whatever) enough about IE that they don’t feel the need to make the switch.

Now let us compare the steps needed to switch from IE to Firefox with the steps needed to switch from Windows to the Mac. To switch from IE to Firefox you have to be willing to download a program and install the thing. That sums up the entire process. If you want to switch from a Windows machine to a Mac, you have to jump through several more hoops. First, you’ll have to drop a significant amount of cash for a new Mac. Then you’ll have to (at least) cross grade your key Windows programs to Mac versions. Finally, you’ll face the arduous process of transferring all your files over to the Mac (on the bright side you can leave that .dll nonsense alone). Not that the transition isn’t worth it, rather that the process involves much more work and time than merely switching your default browser.

When all is said and done one conclusion becomes seemingly inescapable: the Mac has little chance of near term revolutionary market share growth. The superiority of OS X over Windows isn’t as well defined as the differences between Firefox and IE. Aside from the fact that OS X isn’t as far ahead of Windows as Firefox is of IE, we must also consider the cost and hassle of switching from Windows. It is difficult to envision a scenario where someone is too lazy or uninformed to switch to Firefox while being both informed and proactive enough to jump to the Mac. Don’t expect miracles anytime soon.


  • You forgot one other factor where switching browsers is easier than switching platforms.  I still use IE (on my PC) and Safari on my Mac.  Most people are dealing with one computer at a time.  One dies and they buy a new one.  They would be ditching their Windows box with no fall back.  If you don’t like Safari, you ask for a refund and switch back to IE.  But switching back to the PC might mean a few years.  It is a huge commitment.  With divorce rates the way they are in this country, why would we expect commitment to a computer platform?

    Chris Marsden had this to say on Dec 27, 2005 Posts: 2
  • While I’d dispute the perception that Firefox is *that* far ahead for the average user (watch Amanda Congdon’s segment for what the man in the street thinks concerning the IE vs Firefox game - tabbed browsing is about the only feature addition they know of), there’s an additional big factor:

    Firefox is perceived as more secure than IE.  Getting infected just by visiting a web site is less likely to happen with Firefox.  This is a big factor in why it is recommended by experts who do know what is under the hood to novices who don’t.

    The same applies to Mac OS X.  Secure, virus-free computing (for the moment).  That’s sure to attract a lot of new users if they can keep ahold of some of their Win32 programs when they buy a Macintel.

    Personally, though, I don’t WANT Apple to gain much more than a mid-teens marketshare.  Virus/trojan/worm writing is a profitable business and the vast numbers of Windows users make it likely the perpetrators will stick with that platform, but if the Mac grows substantially then it becomes a fair target too.  (And don’t kid yourself it can’t be done.)

    At the height of its popularity in the late 1980s, Macintosh had a maximum of 18% of the market.  If it can get back there and go no higher, I’d be happy.

    dotmike had this to say on Dec 27, 2005 Posts: 6
  • i would also point out that, for many, many people windows is perfectly adequate. these are people who don’t care about the details/features of various browsers.  these are people who really don’t want to spend a lot of time on a computer—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything wrong with not caring about whether opera, firefox, or ie work best. consider as well that if you use a non-ie browser, a firewall, anti-virus software, and spyware software your web experience is certainly not so problematic that you would feel the need to switch to a mac. i won’t list all the reasons/changes that apple might need to make to increase its computer market share; but no matter how much people say osx is so superior to windows, one must accept that most of this superiority is lost on people who, again, see the computer as a commodity. they, rightfully, want it work without complication ... and before one argues that the mac is simpler to operate, i would argue that it’s not simpler if what you KNOW is how to operate windows.

    mobius32 had this to say on Dec 27, 2005 Posts: 1
  • i think the things that’s stopping one to switch from windows to mac is (1) that whole no right-click mouse nonsense, the (2) max, min, close buttons on top left corner, and (3) the programs.

    (1) on osx, right-click can be done w/ any non-apple mouse (with USB connection) and their mighty mouse.
    (2) in the next version of macs osx apple should let users choose to put those min max close buttons on left/right. it shouldn’t be that hard to do since WinXP skinning programs could do it so easily on the window side.
    (3) apparantly there’s a way to run windows programs on x86 macs through something called “WINE”.

    Now, if apple can make an extremely cheap and small mac that’s good enough for home & office use (surf the web, Word processing, chatting, music, and DVD movies) for the same price as a 60GB video ipod (or lower), PLUS solving those 3 issues i listed above out of the box, i think it can sell extremely well even if its performance does not surpass the current mac mini.

    c00rdinat0r had this to say on Dec 27, 2005 Posts: 2
  • You should make the distinction between what people use at home and what companies install in their offices.  The trend started in Europe where 10 european countries have adoption rates for FireFox that are higher than 20%, and 2 countries higher than 30%.

    As time goes by, we might see the same trend in computers: companies will continue to use Windows because of low prices and legacy applications, while more and more families and individuals are going to switch to the Mac because it fits their needs at home better.

    Same goes with vehicles, clothing and furniture. What companies give you to fulfill your job (be it pick-up trucks, grey desks and Windows PCs) isn’t necessarily what you’d want at home.

    Pierre Saslawsky had this to say on Dec 27, 2005 Posts: 4
  • Chris,

    Great article! Unfortunately I both see, and agree with, your point. (sigh)

    James R. Stoup had this to say on Dec 28, 2005 Posts: 122
  • First of all, the vanguard has already switched to the Mac. If you look at those at the forefront of the next wave, it’s happened. Just ask the majority of those running or moderating on Slashdot or at Linux World and because of them, many of the IT/IS world, that have a clue, and are charged with helping out PC users all day long, go home to their Macs. They are tired of all the hassles of windows, because it’s just NOT good enough. Settings reset themselves, software corrupts or “hiccups” for no reason at all. Things just suddenly don’t work and now the new trend it to throw out the computer after a year because it’s filled with spyware, malware, bugs, etc. And they just aren’t well made. Dell used to be good. I can’t buy them anymore because the nameless brands are better than Dell or HP. (Three laptops with wireless and motherboards dead after less than a year, six out of thirty six computers dead out of the box). The Mac is like a TiVO. Put one in the hand of a user and they’ll never go back. Convert a COO or CEO and they’ll convert the company, top down. They practically sell themselves. I know. I’ve converted the most hard core PC users. All of them, without fail.

    Providence had this to say on Dec 28, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Though I agree in part, I believe that there is a difference between switching browsers and switching from a PC to a Mac - awareness that another product exists.  Everyone has heard of apple.  Some think that they’re “only for graphics”, but they’ve heard of them.  The iPod especially has driven mindshare.  Firefox, on the other hand, is relatively unknown.  Most people have never heard of Mozilla in their life, but they know what a macintosh is.

    sworthy had this to say on Dec 28, 2005 Posts: 10
  • “When all is said and done one conclusion becomes seemingly inescapable: the Mac has little chance of near term revolutionary market share growth.”

    My question is why does anyone want apple to have market share growth? I see the negatives out weighing the positives.

    robsp2000 had this to say on Dec 28, 2005 Posts: 4
  • Let the idiot masses rot in their own ignorance…

    Trying to convert stubborn WIndows users to buy and use a Mac is like trying to “win” back an old girlfriend after she’s had 3 or 4 new men in her life. She still knows your number, but the only she’ll call is to help bail her out of another domestic dispute…

    No. There is a point where stupidity should be left to its own devices and those diehard Windows lovers are more than welcome to spend $$$ on malware|spyware|AVWare add-ons for whatever version of Windows that is months late and outdated by the time it does hit the street…

    The only thing to tell someone when you talk about buying a Mac is “3-year extended warranty”. The rest is all obvious.

    Anthony Harmon had this to say on Dec 28, 2005 Posts: 2
  • My question is why does anyone want apple to have market share growth? I see the negatives out weighing the positives.

    Personally, I’ll be satisfied with the Apple/Mac market remaining relatively small as long as it stays healthy at that size.  If it grows too large (especially if quickly) many of the benefits we currently enjoy (and sometimes take for granted) may decrease or be lost.

    From a business perspective, I can understand the advantages for developers of having more potential customers.  And they may work on more projects that currently seem to risky without those customers.

    Obviously there are many more tradeoffs both ways than can be stated here.

    I haven’t been concerned with the iPod’s market growth and size because it’s much simpler than the Mac market.  Sure, there’s a fairly high noise-to-signal ratio in the iPod community but the diversity of products, topics, and issues is relatively small.  But too large a Mac market might become uncomfortably saturated with too many crappy products and dopey users for my taste. The Mac community still feels personal and knowable, and the product scope is manageable.

    Any time I step into the cold, uninviting Windows universe (fortunately infrequently) is a blatant reminder of how very much I don’t want the warm, welcoming Mac universe to ever become.


    I’m in favor of expanding the Mac universe, if it’s a creatively positive and intelligent process.  Otherwise, I’m happy to sustain it much like it currently is (for me), with change that avoids stagnation.

    sjk had this to say on Jan 01, 2006 Posts: 112
  • Oh coordinator, your post (#5) was hilarious. It was meant to be satirical, right?

    I think there is one quite interesting fact about Macs and PCs:
    - PC users buy PCs;
    - Mac users buy Macs;
    - Through a few factors including conversion via a Mac friend, occasionally a PC user will buy a Mac;
    - Mac users will never buy a PC.

    It’s like you have 2 glasses of water and an eye dropper. One glass is the Mac users, the other is the Windows. Now the eye dropper gets used to take drops from the PC glass and put them into the into the Mac glass. Although the PC glass is constantly getting more water added, and water being replaced by newer water, the fact is there’s a finite level, and it is always going down bit by bit and disappearing into the Mac glass.

    The more people who convert the more people they will convert and so on, snowballing faster and faster until the Mac will end up doing like any popular product, where because your friends have it, you have to have it as well. And because nobody ever switches back…. well, the rest is history.

    It’s happened in every other market.  It’s just those monopolies were happening in the 50s with big-name brands which took decades before people stopped buying into the brand and realized the competitors building up in the background were actually better products. - The computer market hasn’t been around since the 50s so this has got to take its time too. Although we are living in an age where stuff happens at lightspeed, so I doubt it will be 50 years.

    But anyway, saying all this. I would rather if Mac share stayed quite low. If everyone had a Mac, what would I have to show off to people?? =|

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Jan 01, 2006 Posts: 299
  • Oh coordinator, your post (#5) was hilarious. It was meant to be satirical, right?

    Sure started off that way with (1) and (2) then got a bit more serious with (3).

    sjk had this to say on Jan 01, 2006 Posts: 112
  • Let’s not be divisive based on operating system preference. Trying to impose characteristics on people based on what computer they use is, as we should be well aware in this day and age, is destructive, highly prejudicial and not beneficial to the computer industry as a whole. Ironically, it is pride and arrogance which resulted in Mac clutching a miraculous existence in a niche market while Microsoft holds the vast share. Marketing sadly far outweighs quality in terms of business success. That’s how Ford cars became the most widely sold car in America. Someone else invented the car, he made it affordable and usable to the majority of the market place. It isn’t a great car, but it works. Mac and Windows are both computer operating systems but they don’t meet the same functional needs due in large part to Windows having the stronghold on proprietary applications so all the software needed to integrate computers and their tools within an office don’t work together (such as email.) Macs are more often a additional tool and accompany a PC work station for all the Office applications. Good news, industry standards and standard compliant browsers such as Firefox are paving the way for web-based cross-platform applications. Proprietary applications will have to adapt with a industry compliant web-based application in order to sustain their place in the market. In truth, Macs survive because graphic applications made an existence possible for them to survive on their own. Operating Systems will become far more lean and much less important—a return to a DOSesque existence as web applications require far less managing and resources. Marketing may have made Microsoft but it very well may be why it breaks it. Web technology has narrowed the margin for functionality between web-based and packaged application products while greatly reducing manufacturing, distribution and licensing costs. Wins all the way around. The user gains more universal interaction with products making them more accessible and user-friendly. The war between Macs and PCs will become as timely and significant as the war between the North and the South. It’s all part of evolution and technology. The personal computers revolutionized the industry and now that little expirement called the internet has inadvertently become the revolutionary leader in the industry because it led the way to communication between the two AND everything else.  The adaptable generalists are the evolutionary survivors while the specialists become extinct. Important consideration. Regardless of the arguable perception, Macs are here by pure luck and nothing else. The most important thing is making the machines work for the users. Hello, cell phone network providers, are you listening? The idea of utilizing proprietary means to secure ownership in the business-place for short-term profits often fail strategically in the long term because it imposes barriers that people will eventually find a way to work around. The miscalculation was overestimating the importance of the operating system, whereas the real opportunities were in the applications that would run the computers. ATMs are a success story of bypassing ownership to reap the benefits of creating a vast network of integrated banking systems initially to create a work-around to the proprietary limitations imposed by Colorado’s laws against branch banking that lasted until the 90s. Cooperation and communication that unify are strategic winners!

    UnitedComputerUsers had this to say on Sep 03, 2006 Posts: 1
  • UnitedComputerUsers, it would be tiring to read your comments without paragraphs so I won’t.  I’m sure other readers would appreciate them, too.

    sjk had this to say on Sep 04, 2006 Posts: 112
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