The past 30 years has seen an interesting storyline with respect to web browsers. The first web browser I used was a terminal program that read World Wide Web pages as text. The first GUI web browser I used was Mosaic, back in 1993, created by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. Netscape Navigator followed this in 1994, and was quite fancy compared to Mosaic. I played with Microsoft Explorer when it came out in 1995, but a) it required Windows and b) it was very buggy.
There were lots of Mac web browsers, such as MacWeb (1994), OmniWeb (1995), Cyberdog (an extraordinarily innovative web browser from Apple, in 1996), Opera (1996), iCab (1998), Mozilla (based on Netscape Navigator, 1998), Safari (2003), and then…
Firefox, introduced in 2004, offered an “extensible” framework through plug-ins. Plug-ins had to follow certain protocols, but could be written by anyone. Initial plug-ins did useful things (checked to see if page links were valid, for example), but they soon ventured into the frivolous (changing the default language of a page to something random, or played Pong, with or without human help, etc.). Plug-ins proved to be very popular, so popular that users complained that they were slowing down Firefox, usually because users added far too many plug-ins, making visiting a web page a battle between plug-ins doing time-consuming, and frequently competing, things.
Soon, other browsers started allowing plug-ins, though some, like Apple, were very cautious, stressing instead speed, privacy, and security. More competition arrived in the form of AOL Explorer, Camino (an offshoot of Mozilla and Firefox), and, in 2008, Chrome.
Chrome was interesting as it was built using WebKit, the same framework that is the foundation of Safari. As Chrome was published by Google, and Google, though their search engine, had a vast knowledge of how the World Wide Web worked, developers soon found Chrome very attractive, and Chrome gradually gained an ever-growing market share. Meanwhile, Safari, expanding out from the Mac to also incorporate iPhone and iPad, rapidly became the most popular browser in history.
Firefox, once the darling of web developers, fought to keep its market share. Adopting some of Apple’s goals, Firefox started emphasizing speed, security, and privacy. But Chrome kept gaining market share, especially after it was released on Android, and it gradually displaced Internet Explorer on Windows. Microsoft tried a comeback, releasing a new browser, Edge, based on Apple’s WebKit, in 2015. This didn’t make much of a dent, and Microsoft released a new version of Edge, built on Google’s Chromium, in 2020.
Meanwhile, Firefox continued to decline. A few weeks ago, this snippet appeared on Slashdot:
Is Firefox OK?
The answer is: no. Firefox is still plunging in popularity.
For what it is worth, I have installed on my Mac Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge (yes, there is a Mac version). The three I used the most are Safari, Chrome, and Apple’s Terminal, for looking at obscure and technical things.†
Firefox, if it isn’t dead yet, is at most a footnote of a bygone era.
† To use Terminal as a browser, launch it, then type in:
curl [URL of site]
Expect pages and pages of hypertext to flow past at high speed, interspersed with things you can read in English.