Firefox maker Mozilla is targeting Microsoft, Google, and Apple for using their operating systems to direct users to their browsers and stack the deck against rivals who don’t have the same operating system benefits. Like, for example, Mozilla.
The fact that these few large companies dominate such an important technology market – Mozilla refers to browsers and browser engines as the heart of the web – has a monopolistic ripple effect that leads to few choices for users, a decline in innovation, a lack of openness and low-quality, insecure code was forced upon us, concluded the Firefox developer 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 learn how netizens interact with browsers and how operating system makers are stifling competitors. and holding back innovation.
Suffice it to say that Firefox, once considered interesting and popular, is no longer exactly the taste of the month. On desktop, it achieves about seven percent market share, versus Chrome’s 67 percent, and on mobile, it barely registers, according to StatCounter. So you can see why the Firefox builder is a little upset. But who or what is to blame for this dwindling interest?
Moz’s position is that although there are alternatives, such as open source Firefox, to the three big browsers – Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari, and Google Chrome – users find it difficult or too much effort to change from those, especially given the way Microsoft, Apple and Google design their operating systems – Windows, macOS, and iOS and Android, primarily – to keep people stuck. This disrupts interest in competing browsers, which see limited use and development effort and never quite take off to challenge the status quo.
Additionally, Google, Apple, and Mozilla are the only major browser engine manufacturers left, another indicator that users don’t have much of a choice. Apple Pushes Its WebKit Engine, At the Heart of Safari, to Mac and iOS Users; Mozilla has its own Gecko engine in Firefox; and Google has managed to bring its Chromium Blink engine to not only Chrome on desktop and Android, but also Edge, Brave, Vivaldi, Opera, and more, across multiple platforms.
With Apple focused on its ecosystem, only Gecko and Blink remain on many platforms. This, according to Mozilla, is not a good deal for web developers or netizens. The dominant engine is well positioned to dictate future web standards.
Firefox introduces cookie deletion, clutter-free printing, Microsoft single sign-on … so where are all the users?
“The research we are publishing with this report paints a complex picture with many paradoxes: People say they know how to change their browser, but many never do,” the Mozilla team wrote. “Many people believe they can choose their browser, but they have a preference for software that is pre-installed, set to default and hard to change.”
Tech giants design their software to influence people’s choices, and operating system manufacturers use these techniques to guide the use of their browsers, crushing any rival in the way, according to Mozilla.
“Competition in browsers and browser engines is necessary to drive innovation, performance, speed, privacy and security,” the Moz team said. “Effective competition requires multiple stakeholders to counter the power of a small number of giants and prevent them from dictating the future of the Internet for all of us.”
On top of all this, you have Meta bundling their Chrome-based Oculus browser with its virtual reality headsets, and Amazon uses Chromium’s Blink engine in the browser included with its devices.
An old problem
Mozilla’s complaint reminds us, and probably you too, of the protest in the 1990s that Microsoft was using its Windows operating system to push its Internet Explorer browser on everyone, annihilating Netscape and dragging any other rival browsers onto it. Street. The tech giants using their operating systems to force web browsers on users are something that keeps popping up from time to time.
Most recently, the UK Competition and Market Authority in June said it is probing Apple and Google’s market dominance in the world of browsers and games. In the same month, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov accused Apple of choking web developers by stuffing Safari down users’ throats.
Mozilla said Microsoft, Apple and Google are abusing their market strengths by merging their browsers with their operating systems – again, Windows, iOS and macOS and Android – and setting them as default and making it tedious for users to break free. from the software and choose an alternative, if those users are also aware that there is an alternative.
In some cases, you can’t even delete the bundled browser. It wasn’t until 2020 that Apple added settings to switch between Safari and another browser as the default on iOS, and even then there’s no way to uninstall Apple’s offering.
Another annoying thing that some operating system manufacturers do is find an excuse to ignore the user’s browser choice and switch people’s settings back to the giants’ browsers. This configuration hijacking is “even more glaring than prohibiting the adoption of rival software,” Moz researchers said.
“This has been the case with Microsoft Windows computers for several years; consumers have faced increasingly aggressive practices, some of which aimed at reversing their decisions to use non-Microsoft software, for example, by ignoring their default browser choice and returning to Edge, “they wrote.
Additionally, according to Mozilla, operating system developers can rely on manufacturers of computers, phones, and other devices so that this hardware not only comes with their operating system and browser, but rival browsers are not included, some coming up to demanding rival browsers are excluded from the app stores. For example, Google convinces Android smartphone makers to bundle Google’s software suite, including Chrome, and competing browsers are given a cold shoulder.
This is important given the high use of PCs 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% many times a day.
“The browser is a connective tissue between our professional and personal lives and the wider world, as more and more facets become digital-first,” the Firefox maker wrote.
You may think this is just Mozilla embittered and cry that Firefox has gone out of style. Nobody forces you to install or run Chrome on your non-ChromeOS desktop, for example, so we definitely have to do it of our own free will.
But Mozilla sounds somewhat convincing in its conclusion:
So what should be done? Mozilla said it is working on proposing some solutions. He hopes in the coming months to post tips on how to design software to promote the choice. Namely, we think, we promote Firefox. He also proposed this little secondary research for politicians and watchdogs …
“Regulators, policy makers and lawmakers in many jurisdictions can seize this moment to create a new era in Internet history, where consumers and developers benefit from genuine choice, competition and innovation.”
Since Netscape is present in the Firefox legacy, let’s assume we have a Netscape v Microsoft reboot potentially waiting again. ®