Firefox maker Mozilla takes aim at Microsoft, Google and Apple for using their operating systems to direct users to their browsers and stack the deck against rivals that don’t have the same operating system advantages. Like, for example, Mozilla.
The fact that these few large companies dominate such a large technology market – Mozilla refers to browsers and browser engines as the heart of the web – has a monopolistic ripple effect that results in few choices for users, a decline in innovation, a lack of openness, and shoddy, insecure code is forced upon us, the Firefox developer concluded in a recent report.
In “Five Walled Gardens: Why Browsers are Essential to the Internet and How Operating Systems are Holding Them Back,” Mozilla researchers wrote that they wanted to know how Internet users interact with browsers and how operating system makers stifle competitors and stifle innovation.
Suffice it to say, Firefox, once considered cool and popular, isn’t exactly the flavor of the month anymore. On desktop, it has around 7% market share, compared to Chrome’s 67%, and on mobile, it barely registers, according to StatCounter. So you can understand why the Firefox builder is a bit upset. But who or what is to blame for this waning interest?
Moz’s position is that while there are alternatives, such as its open source Firefox, to the big three browsers – Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari and Google Chrome – users find it difficult or too much effort to switch. of these, especially given how Microsoft, Apple and Google design their operating systems – Windows, macOS and iOS, and Android, primarily – to keep people locked in. This cuts off interest from competing browsers, which see limited usage and development effort, and never quite take off to challenge the status quo.
Additionally, Google, Apple, and Mozilla are the only major browser engine makers left, another indicator that users don’t have much choice. Apple is pushing its WebKit engine, the heart of Safari, on Mac and iOS users to the point that the iOS Firefox app has to use WebKit rather than its own engine, eliminating competition, choice and innovation.
For other OS, Mozilla uses its Gecko engine in Firefox. Meanwhile, Google has managed to bring its Chromium Blink engine not only to Chrome on desktop and Android, but also to Edge, Brave, Vivaldi, Opera, etc., across multiple platforms.
With Apple focused on its own ecosystem, even dictating which browser engine iOS apps should use, that leaves only Gecko and Blink on many other platforms. This, according to Mozilla, is not good business for web developers or internet users. The dominant engine is well placed to dictate future web standards.
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“The research we publish with this report paints a complex picture with many paradoxes: people say they know how to switch browsers, but many never do,” the Mozilla team wrote. “A lot of people think they can choose their browser, but they have a penchant for software that’s pre-installed, set as default, and hard to change.”
Tech giants design their software to influence people’s choices, and operating system makers use these techniques to drive usage in their own browsers, crushing all rivals, according to Mozilla.
“Competition in browsers and browser engines is necessary to advance innovation, performance, speed, privacy, and security,” the Moz team explained. “Effective competition requires multiple stakeholders to counter the power of a few giants and prevent them from dictating the future of the internet for us all.”
On top of all that, you have Meta bundling its own Chromium-based Oculus browser with its VR headsets, and Amazon uses Chromium’s Blink engine in the browser included in its devices.
An old problem
Mozilla’s complaint reminds us, and probably you too, of the 1990s outcry over Microsoft using its Windows operating system to impose its Internet Explorer browser on everyone, wiping out Netscape and blocking every other competing browser. Tech giants using their operating systems to force web browsers on users is something that keeps cropping up time and time again.
More recently, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority said in June that it was probing the market dominance of Apple and Google in the world of browsers and games. That same month, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov accused Apple of stifling web developers by stuffing WebKit and Safari down users’ throats.
Mozilla claimed that Microsoft, Apple and Google were abusing their market advantages by bundling their browsers with their operating systems – again, Windows, iOS and macOS and Android – and setting them as defaults, and making cumbersome for users to opt out of the software and choose an alternative, if said users even know that an alternative exists.
In some cases, you cannot even remove the bundled browser. It wasn’t until 2020 that Apple added settings to switch Safari to another default browser on iOS, and even then you can’t uninstall Apple’s offering.
Another annoying thing some OS makers do is find an excuse to ignore the user’s browser choice and redirect users’ settings to the giants’ own browsers. This configuration hijacking is “even more egregious than banning the adoption of rival software,” the Moz researchers said.
“This has been the case on Microsoft Windows computers for a number of years; consumers have faced increasingly aggressive practices, some of which have been aimed at reversing their decision to use non-Microsoft software, for example, skip the default browser choice and go back to Edge,” they wrote.
Additionally, according to Mozilla, operating system developers can rely on manufacturers of computers, phones, and other devices to ship this hardware not just with their operating system and browser, but that no competing browsers are included – some going so far as to require competing browsers. are excluded from app stores. For example, Google is pushing Android smartphone makers to bundle Google’s software suite, including Chrome, and competing browsers are getting the cold shoulder.
This is important given the high usage of PC and mobile browsers, according to the report. The researchers found that 82% of US residents surveyed – and 84% in the UK – use a smartphone browser at least once a day, and 54% to 88% several times a day.
“The browser is a connective tissue between our professional and personal lives and the larger world, as more and more facets of it become digital first,” the Firefox maker wrote.
You might think it’s just that Mozilla is bitter and crying over the fact that Firefox has fallen into disuse. No one is forcing you to install or run Chrome on your non-ChromeOS desktop, for example, so we have to do it voluntarily.
But Mozilla seems somewhat convincing in its conclusion:
So what should be done? Mozilla said it is working to come up with solutions. He hopes over the next few months to publish suggestions on how software can be designed to promote choice. That is, we mean, promote Firefox. He also offered this little parallel quest for politicians and watchdogs…
“Regulators, policymakers, and legislators in many jurisdictions can use this moment to create a new era in Internet history – an era in which consumers and developers benefit from real choice, competition, and innovation.”
Since Netscape is part of the Firefox legacy, we guess we have a Netscape reboot against Microsoft to hope for potentially again. ®