Why I don't recommend Firefox

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This article is over 10 years old. It's possible that the information you read below isn't current.

Before you fly off the handle and flame the article in the comments, try actually reading it. I don’t once say that you shouldn’t use Firefox, that other people shouldn’t use Firefox, or that IE is better. This is a critique of the Firefox marketing strategy, nothing more.

Firefox has a grassroots marketing campaign underway where they’re trying to get bloggers to add a Firefox button to their blogs. Asa Dotzler recently sent me an email asking me to participate.

We noticed and appreciate your repeated recommendations for Firefox at your weblog and we were hoping that you would further help get the word out by adding a small Firefox button to your blog. The image is hosted at mozilla.org and the code to add it is some very simple HTML. We depend on word of mouth (or of blog) and we appreciate your helping to spread the word with positive blog posts. If you’re interested in helping with this effort, you can find the buttons at http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/buttons.html.

Actually, I don’t think I ever have recommended Firefox. I use it and do talk about it on occasion, but I think the browser has some way to go before I’d recommend it to the general population. Something as simple as upgrading from one version to another needs to be seamless and not break things before I’d suggest that everyone use Firefox. I understand why at this stage of Firefox development upgrades sometimes need to break things, but it’s still not okay to the average user.

Aggressively marketing Firefox before it is a completely stable product is dangerous. You’re running the risk of having people trying it out and being put off by the bugs, never again to return.

Other problems with the browser include…

  • Popup blocking is sometimes over-aggressive. Popups launched from a positive user action (like clicking a link) should ALWAYS work. This is a tough one to get right, I know. And don’t tell me about the whitelist. The average user isn’t going to add lots of entries to the whitelist.
  • No “Go” buttons next to the address bar and search bar by default. Many, many users need a button to click. They don’t know that just hitting enter will do the trick. The Address bar and search fields are also too similar. “Why do I have two fields and which one do I type ‘yahoo.com’ into so I can start using the Internet?” Yes, I know you can add the button, but if I need a button, there’s no way I’m going to be able to figure out how to do THAT.
  • The launch problem in Windows ME needs to be solved. Yes, Windows ME sucks, but lots of people use it, and getting an error message every time they click a URL shortcut in the OS is bad. Error messages are scary to the average user.

Firefox right now is very good for an experienced net user, but is not at all ready for the average person. If you plan on targeting the general public, you need to understand the general public.

Most Web users don’t know what a browser is. That blue E they click on the desktop isn’t a browser, it’s “The Internet.” Or maybe it’s “Yahoo” if that’s what their home page is set to. Tell them to download a new browser and they don’t understand what you mean. I put Firefox on my wife’s computer and removed the IE link. She asked why she didn’t have My Yahoo on the computer anymore. My wife’s not stupid — to her the IE logo is how she got to the Web. Without that, she didn’t know how to get to My Yahoo.

You’d be shocked how many people don’t understand what a URL is and what the address bar is for. When they need to go to a site, they close the browser, re-open it so they get the MSN or Yahoo home page, and enter the URL into the search box. How about integrating the address bar and the search field? If what I entered isn’t a URL, pass it to Google.

It’s time to stop thinking like developers and start thinking like users. For evidence that the Firefox team thinks like developers you don’t need to go any farther than the Firefox home page. Let’s look over that page and put ourselves into the user’s shoes…

Firefox 0.9 is the award winning preview of Mozilla’s next generation browser.

What’s a preview? Does that mean I can’t use it. Is it like a demonstration or something? And what’s a next-generation browser? I thought this thing was supposed to help me use the Internet.

View more than one web page in a single window

You have to be a serious power user to appreciate that feature. Many people only have a single window open all the time anyway. If they need another window, they close the first one.

Firefox keeps your computer safe from malicious spyware by not loading harmful ActiveX controls.

What’s an activeX control? What’s spyware? All I want is to stop getting all those stupid programs I didn’t ask for.

Firefox is the most customizable browser on the planet.

There’s that browser word again. What is it? And why would I customize it? Does that mean that this won’t work when I get it? I’m going to have to work on it to get it working?

Use the adaptive search system to allow you to search an infinite number of engines.

Why are they talking about engines here? I thought this was something for my internet, not my car.

The new Easy Transition system imports all of your settings - Favorites, passwords and other data from Internet Explorer and other browsers.

I don’t know what that means. Maybe if I get this thing, the way I use the Internet is going to change. All I want is a way to use the Internet without getting all that junk. I don’t want to have to change my passwords and stuff to do that.

Firefox comes with a standard set of developer tools including a powerful JavaScript and CSS error/warning console, and an optional Document Inspector that gives unheard of insight into how your pages work.

Uh-oh, now I know why I didn’t understand all that stuff. This thing’s something that programmers use.

Update Sept 8, 2004, 9:40am

Let’s clear some things up. I am a user of Firefox and have been since Phoenix 0.2. I switched to it as a primary browser sometime during the 7 days in October where 0.3 was the stable version. For a period of time (around 0.7) I was using the nightly binaries. My list of installed extensions includes one I wrote myself. I never got around to compiling the source myself (although I did with Mozilla 0.8), so I suppose I can’t claim alpha-geek status.

The point of this article isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use Firefox. It isn’t to say that other people shouldn’t use Firefox. The point isn’t even that you shouldn’t try to get your friends to use Firefox. The point is simply that the Mozilla Foundation shouldn’t be aggressively marketing a product before it is ready. By doing so there is a significant risk that people will try it and end up with a negative impression. It is much more difficult to change a bad impression than it is to change no impression at all.

Perhaps I should have entitled this article “Why I Won’t recommend Firefox.” Because the real point is that I don’t think it’s a good idea to promote this to every random person who comes across my blog. And a lot of random people come across this blog.

My observations about the relative ability of the average user aren’t just made up. They’re based on hundreds of hours of observing users while they use the internet and thousands more hours of studying user behavior and UI and software management best practices. It’s what I do for a living and have for the last ten years.

In the software requirements field there’s a problem called transference — transferring your understanding and world view onto that of the users. When you are dealing with understanding the requirements of a user, need to be very careful not to make assumptions about them. The easiest and most common assumption is that the user is in some ways similar to you or to other people you know. That’s because it’s a lot easier to identify with people with whom you have something in common. That transference of knowledge is what many of the commenters below are doing. Because of their advanced level of knowledge and the level of their friends and colleagues it is difficult for them understand and believe that there is such an enormous gap between them and the average user.

It’s not that these users are stupid. They just don’t realize that they have an alternative to Internet Explorer. Many don’t know that they have an alternative when it comes to connecting to the Internet. That blue E is the thing that they’ve always used. In order to switch they’re going to need to have a compelling reason. They’re going to need to be told not that they need a new browser or they should stop using IE, but that the way they currently use the internet is unsafe and that Firefox will solve that for them.

But before that happens, Firefox needs to be bulletproof enough that my 64 year old father in law can install it and manage it himself. He managed to install Weatherbug, Hotshots, Hotbar, and a host of other adware, so understanding how to install software isn’t the problem. The problem is that Firefox as it currently exists and is marketed isn’t as compelling as those applications. Each of the aforementioned tools provides some very real perceived benefit to the average consumer.

And Firefox will likely very soon be ready for these types of users. It gets better with each nightly. But why promote the 0.9 release and risk turning those users off with an unfinished product?

rocket_man
May 4, 2008 9:30 PM

Article written in 2004 Can you update? A lot has changed since then!? [About 128 milion users now?]

Mr. Skills
May 26, 2008 6:51 PM

"I always have to scan with Adaware to clean up afterwards." What kind of shady sites do you visit?

pR@tz
May 29, 2008 3:36 PM

Time to post a new update.....

GateCrasher
June 7, 2008 4:19 PM

Im not sure what everyone is complaining about. Firefox is by far the best browser out to date. It fully complies with the W3Schools web standards, where as Microsoft (IE) just decides that they dont have to follow the same rules. Anything that Firefox cant do, there is an easily accessible plug-in to fix that problem. Pandora works in Firefox, has since I can remember. Also, you can get the plug-in FireGestures which will allow Firefox to have the same gesture based navigation that Opera does. I will take no advice from a web programmer who would rather use IE over Firefox, that is just a ridiculous statement. As a web programmer myself, I will do everything in Firefox, and then run tests in IE, Opera, and Safari to make sure it all works correctly. Also, the fact "All websites are made with IE in mind" is false. Coding for IE is a pain in the butt, most programmers code for Firefox, then add the clunky work-arounds and hacks to get it to work in IE. The thing that makes Firefox better than IE is that its not coded directly into the backbone of your operating system like IE is, which is where all the security issues come from. Oh one more point... Weatherbug? If you are waiting for Firefox to be good enough so that a monkey can use it before you tell anyone about it, you will be waiting for a long time. Anyone installing a resource-hog like weatherbug on their computer deserves epic-fail programs like IE (I will admit, IE 7 is much better than its predecessors though).

noname
July 1, 2008 1:52 AM

You are idiot! Firefox is the best!!!

Nimmi
September 5, 2008 4:58 PM

i hate you!!!! dont talk about my firefox like that!

Anony-mouse
January 19, 2009 11:27 AM

The majority of these comments are absolutely retarded. This was written in 2004, for the love of christ. Back then a lot of this was absolutely true, and even today some points still hold a lot of water (vicious marketing, unpolished releases, serious issues etc.). Firefox is a great browser, and is in serious competition with a lot of the other high name browsers, but recently it's became more bloated, more 'feature packed' that it's beginning to look like a lot different from the Firefox I fell in love with all those years ago. Yes, it's aimed towards the more 'average user' (not the mentally challenged user the writer talks about) and it caters quite well whilst reminding us that it can still be just as powerful for the more knowledgeable users. Unless Google pull out something amazing with Chrome (so far it's been unimpressive), or MS somehow fix the awful reputation IE has (a step in the right direction with the latest release, I must say) I honestly don't think Firefox is going to go anywhere any time soon.

Pierre
July 5, 2009 6:51 PM

I didnt read it all, but i dont agree. I would anyday recommend Firefox over IE. I have used firefox for a few years now, and i have only been happy with it, so far with the lastest updates i have yet to find a site that wont work on firefox. My mom started useing Firefox and my sister asked her why she was using such a useless thing, and my mom told my sister that i had installed it, and ever since i did, shes been much happier browsing the web, mostly due to the blocking of pop ups and the fact that firefox runs faster then IE, and if my mom can see this, then theres something about it. I say this cos my mom only started using pc's about 3years ago, and shes below the average user, but stil shes useing it more and more now a days. My sister on the other hand still using IE, and complaining about virus attacks all the time. I dont know why this is, but imma let her live with the ever slow IE.

Adam Kalsey
July 5, 2009 7:17 PM

So you don't agree that Firefox's marketing strategy they used to convince people to install it 5 years ago was a problem? Based on the fact that you installed Firefox for your mother and she's happy? Thanks for starting your comment out telling us you hadn't read this. Otherwise we'd never have known.

EdgeWalkerZero
July 15, 2009 2:57 PM

I would agree, but I'd have used the less potentially confusing title "Why I can't recommend firefox yet."

EdgeWalkerZero
July 15, 2009 3:00 PM

Though the article is old, it DOES make some good points. Mozilla has a habit of releasing things a bit too early, and they're released and heavily marketed early when they really should be just dropped to tech savvy users early on, and marketed heavily after polishing. This is (or was at the time of writing) true of most Mozilla releases. They should focus less on early campaigning, because it creates an image problem when things become too widespread among casual users before they're ready. This is pretty much endemic in the software industry generally though.

Melissa Levine
September 15, 2009 6:26 PM

QUOTE-- "Most Web users don’t know what a browser is. That blue E they click on the desktop isn’t a browser, it’s “The Internet.” Or maybe it’s “Yahoo” if that’s what their home page is set to. Tell them to download a new browser and they don’t understand what you mean. I put Firefox on my wife’s computer and removed the IE link. She asked why she didn’t have My Yahoo on the computer anymore. My wife’s not stupid — to her the IE logo is how she got to the Web. Without that, she didn’t know how to get to My Yahoo." I have to disagree with the statement you made about your wife not being stupid. It sounds like she is, but I suppose ignorance is bliss to some folks. Nothing personal, most people are computer illiterate.

Adam
November 7, 2009 1:48 AM

QUOTE— “I put Firefox on my wife’s computer and removed the IE link” I did the same to my dad, but I replace the FireFox icon with IE's, and no one could tell a difference.

Clay Butler
November 24, 2009 5:24 AM

Everything said about the typical user is right on. He described standard user behavior completely right. Most people don't know how to cut and paste. They don't know you can just right click anything a get its properties and a list of options. And yes, most people have no idea what a browser is. What ever icon they click to get to the internet IS the internet. Of course Firefox rules. But that's not the point of the article. It's about the difference between developer and power user assumptions and marketing to the general public. That's one of the things that has made Apple products so popular. They pitch 100% to the basic user. Apple is "simple". Of course that's not true, everything requires a learning curve, but the perception is that Apple products essentially run themselves, never break down, and are super easy to use. They also pitch benefits, not features. Firefox pitches features. Hardly controversial.

Rod
April 9, 2010 2:59 PM

Not everyone is that retarded, the language used on the official Mozilla page isn't exactly some high tech speak that only developers and super geniuses understand. And the people that you speak of learn about these terms anyway (or at least should) which is probably a good thing. Some of the complaints seem down right petty. I don't really know who these people are that you speak of but everyone knows that you can press enter after typing in a URL or search...

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