Firefox: A Headache to Microsoft?
By Cho Jin-seo
Firefox, the world's second most used Web browser after Microsoft's Internet explorer, celebrated a record-setting 8 million downloads worldwide on the first day of the launching of its new version.
Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organization that creates and distributes the increasingly popular Internet browser, said it saw more than 8 million Firefox3 downloads in 24 hours from release on its Web site on Wednesday. The tally exceeded 10.7 million on Thursday.
This explosive response from Internet users all over the world well exceeded the expectation of Mozilla chairwoman Mitchell Baker, who happened to be in Seoul on the occasion of the OECD Ministerial Meeting and Future Web Forum from Tuesday to Thursday.
``We are so excited. We are really happy to see millions of people having got involved, chosen and followed Firefox actively,'' a worn-out looking Baker told The Korea Times on Thursday. She said she hadn't had enough sleep the previous night, watching the count climb and packing her bags for the return trip home.
She said she thought 5 million would be a decent score.
``We definitely knew that it would be millions, probably about 5 million. We didn't think it could be this much,'' she said.
First released in 2004, the Firefox series is believed to be used by some 20 percent of Internet users worldwide as the main browser. The hot welcome to its latest version will surely push up its share against Microsoft's Internet Explorer series.
The new version is about twice as fast as the previous one and more safe and convenient to use, Mozilla says. Benchmark tests showed Firefox3 is several times faster in displaying Web pages than Internet Explorer, the No. 1 browser.
Baker and her fellows at Mozilla have enough reason to feel proud. The free open-source Web browser was designed and enhanced by free discussions of thousands of volunteer programmers from all over the world. Furthermore, Mozilla has kept the promotion for Firefox3 at a minimal level. ``We wanted to keep it discrete. Because we know that people don't like advertising. They don't like to be bothered by advertisements.''
Korea Strangled by Microsoft
It was ironic, however, that the Mozilla chairwoman was in South Korea, which is one of the countries where Firefox is the least popular.
Only around 50,000 among the 10 million downloads were done in South Korea. Microsoft's Internet Explorer has an unassailable monopoly here under the government's regulatory umbrella. Firefox's share is believed to be around 1 percent or less.
All banking, shopping and other financial transactions on the Internet can be done on computers using Microsoft's Internet Explorer only and many citizens do not know about the presence of the other Web browsers at all. The government has paid little effort to stop this monopoly. Its Internet minister reiterated the government's lukewarm position on this issue on Wednesday.
``The fact that the government is using Microsoft products too much is a task that we should overcome. But I don't think other countries can give us insight on this matter,'' said Choi See-joong, chairman of Korean Communications Commission, during a press conference at the OECD Ministerial Meeting in Seoul.
Many worry that the Microsoft monopoly is making Korean Web sites vulnerable to cyber attacks. Many public and private sites use a Microsoft program called ActiveX, an outdated technology which can be easily exploited by hackers for cyber crimes. Firefox and other Web browsers do not allow ActiveX for security concerns. But Microsoft are keeping mum about its danger in Korea, while enjoying a comfortable monopoly here.
Laurence Moroney, a technical wizard for Microsoft who also participated in the conference, admitted that it is time for Koreans to make change.
``I don't want to say it's bad. But it is true that ActiveX was created long before modern concerns on Internet security emerged,'' said.
Mozilla worries that it is Korean industry that is being hurt by the technological exclusiveness, because they are not accustomed to making Web sites in accordance with the global open standard.
``Korea wants go grow beyond Korea and compete globally. I know there are Korea businesses that want to expand their market shares outside Korea. So it's not only an internal problem of Korea. It's an issue for growth beyond Korea,'' said Gen Kanai of Mozilla.