Place your bets: Will Firefox retain its gains in popularity?

This isn’t a terribly important question, but it could be interesting to ask because Firefox’s recent gains across EuropeThe Firefox logo are getting so much press. If you’ve seen any mainstream press recently, you’ve probably seen some reference to the Xiti Monitor survey which concluded that Firefox usage is on the rise in Europe—up to 23.2% from 19.4% in April. The Inquirer has a colorful map of Firefox usage in Europe.

Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) is still the most popular web browser worldwide and the new MSIE version 7 has been released. Historically, people use the browser that comes with their computer and they don’t update their system software.

Where does this leave Firefox, a free software web browser (if one uninstalls the “Talkback” software that comes with it by default)?

I think Richard Stallman had it years ago when he wrote:

Sooner or later these users will be invited to switch back to proprietary software for some practical advantage. Countless companies seek to offer such temptation, and why would users decline? Only if they have learned to value the freedom free software gives them, for its own sake. It is up to us to spread this idea–and in order to do that, we have to talk about freedom. A certain amount of the “keep quiet” approach to business can be useful for the community, but we must have plenty of freedom talk too.

The Mozilla Foundation does not engage in freedom talk. For the Mozilla Foundation, the open source message (a development methodology) is key. Social solidarity and valuing freedom for its own sake are not issues to be discussed.

Therefore I continue to predict that Firefox’s gains will be substantially lost when Microsoft Windows Vista comes out because most users have been given no reason to stick with Firefox. Vista comes with MSIE7, lots of people will run that operating system and not bother downloading Firefox. They’ll run MSIE7 and conclude that it works well enough.

If Microsoft delivers technical features users expect plus the reliability we’ve come to expect from Firefox, Mozilla Foundation will have discarded the best competitive edge they can provide—pointing out that they’re distributing something no software proprietor can supply—freedom.