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Firefox Losing Foothold on Linux Distros?

When you install the Ubuntu Netbook Edition in October, don't look for Firefox on the desktop — it won't be there. Chromium, Chrome's open source cousin, is going to be taking its place. After years of desktop dominance on Linux, is Firefox losing its foothold or is this an anomaly?

Firefox has enjoyed sweetheart status on Linux for years. With little competition for a full-featured browser on Linux, Firefox has had a lock on default desktop installs. The rise of Google Chrome, and its open source cousin Chromium, are starting to change that. With Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition (UNE) Chromium is slated to be installed by default to replace Firefox.

Since Firefox’s inception, it’s enjoyed near-exclusivity on the Linux desktop. Granted, the Linux desktop isn’t solely or even mostly responsible for Firefox’s huge growth. The numbers vary, but Firefox seems to hover around 25% of the market. Initially, Firefox’s adoption was driven by early adopters before catching on with a wider market. That’s what seems to be happening with Chrome now, which has about 6% to 7% of the market. An impressive gain for a browser that was trailing Safari this time last year.

While Chrome has been increasing its market share handily, Firefox has mostly stalled. IE continues to lose share, though it’s not clear if it’s losing most of that share to Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.

Does this mean immediate disaster for Firefox? Not necessarily. First of all, it doesn’t even mean that Firefox is being swapped out on the default install for all of Ubuntu. It’s only the netbook remix, which isn’t the majority of Ubuntu’s user base. And just because Chromium is the default doesn’t mean that some users won’t install Firefox anyway.

It’s unlikely that Chromium will displace Firefox at all on other standard Linux distributions. Attempts to package Chromium within the Fedora packaging guidelines have met with little success. Tom ‘spot’ Callaway explains the problems with packaging Chromium for Fedora — many legal, some technical. Chromium doesn’t roll out stable and supported releases. The project tends to fork existing libraries, meaning that Fedora would have to ship libraries twice or do extensive work making Chromium play well with system libraries. Some code is not licensed using Open Source Initiative licenses, making it a bit tricky to establish the status of those licenses.

As an upstream, Chromium has some maturing to do. Mozilla has been working with Linux distros for years, and has established fairly good relations with all the projects and vendors producing distros. Chromium is still getting this stuff ironed out, and it needs to improve quite a bit in the way it works with other projects that it consumes.

The Future is Mobile

But the flip side of the technical hairball that is Chromium is that it’s considered slimmer and more suitable for mobile devices. Chromium was picked for UNE because of its speed and lower resource requirements. UNE is also dropping other requirements for xulrunner in efforts to slim down.

It’s not just Ubuntu. Chrome is also the default for MeeGo. Since MeeGo and UNE are likely to be the leading distros for netbooks, this puts Firefox on the sidelines on quite a few machines. The good news, for Mozilla, is that Fennec is being planned for MeeGo Handset devices. So the mobile “war” isn’t lost just yet, but Chrome is pretty clearly gaining a lot of momentum. And that’s before ChromeOS makes its debut, which is scheduled for later this year.

If Chromium is well-received on the Ubuntu Netbook Edition in October, it doesn’t seem a stretch to imagine that Chromium will be replacing Firefox on the default Ubuntu install in April 2011. The competition is good, especially since Google’s investment in the browser space is helping bring open video to the masses. However, it looks like the days of Firefox as the “default” browser on Linux desktops is nearing an end.

Comments on "Firefox Losing Foothold on Linux Distros?"

campbell2644

Firefox will retain the loyalty of most Linux users because of its open source traditions. Chrome is good but still lacks the flexibility and extras of Firefox. By the time it catches up Firefox may well have technically \”slimmed\” anyway

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mickza

I agree with campbell2644. I have Chrome installed on 64bit Fedora and, although it\’s stable these days, I only use it for site testing – possibly a case of \”old dogs, new tricks\” but I just prefer Firefox.

As a side note I personally think Chrome looks better on Linux than it does on Windows 7 – maybe because of the impending Google OS?

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sgornick

Don\’t forget that Ubuntu 10.10 follows 10.04 LTS (Long Term Support) release, and no longre need to be conservative as far as the mix of components.

In fact, Ubuntu\’s founder says: \”be a little radical in how we approach the next two year major cycle.\”
http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/336

Finding serious regressions (e.g., http://code.google.com/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=45074 ) in each new release of Chrome is frustrating (and surprising, given Google\’s development processes) — though none are severe enough to make me change my default browser back to Firefox.

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wweng_linux

Saying firefox is bloated is like saying emacs is bloated; whoever said it is full of ignorance.

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dezza

Oh – But Ubuntu is perfect – So why bother? I\’m sure that millions of users can\’t be wrong when they choose Ubuntu! (OR CAN THEY?)

It wouldn\’t have anything to do with Google bribing Canonical, no it wouldn\’t be anything like that ..

OF COURSE when it\’s a netbook, you simply go Chrome!

I actually forgot totally about Chrome after the 3.6 Firefox release (3.5 was a mess) .. 3.6 is so much faster than Chrome ..

There is a difference between being customizable and bloated.

It\’s distributions like Ubuntu where the first tip they get is something like \”Install everything in the newest version by source (./configure [...]) and break your package manager\” – why? – Because we hack-a-long and share well-thought tips that break your Ubuntu just like your Windows .. Hooray ..

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tallship

As a Slackware user, we use Chrome, not Chromium, and as such are more fortunate than users of several other Linux distros that don\’t have the option.

I\’ve run Chromium on a couple of other distros, and the differences between the two alone would be enough to make a compelling argument for swapping out distros.

I\’m not really aware of Firefox being the \’default\’ browser in Linux Distros either. I\’ve found that Konqueror is, and wrt embedded devices, the article completely fails to mention Opera – the clear leader in that market, in a place that Firefox isn\’t common in venturing.

Finally, the author alludes to inferences surrounding Google\’s, \”investment in the browser space\” wrt VP8/WebM. My article at http://NorthTech.US/content/20100519/its-official-googles-vp8-goes-open-source explains the volitile and intransigent position that Mozilla took w/regards to H.264 and the subsequent embracing of VP8 by everyone (as if they had a choice) only puts Chrome in front regarding a single aspect – that it is the ONLY browser that supported both Ogg Theora and H.264 from the get-go (why not?).

I can certainly appreciate that Chrome and Chromium are better suited for embedded or thin computing than say, Firefox, Exploder, or Safari, but leaving the real leader in the embedded market (Opera) completely out of the article seems to paint a picture that really isn\’t there in the first place.

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dezza

tallship: Would you honestly expect a non-GPL licensed commercial piece of software being the default browser in a distribution like Ubuntu based on Debian and it\’s free(license) software principles?

Other than that. Don\’t think Google didn\’t pay for it.

Chrome is not light at all .. Custom widgets, that\’s not lightweight.

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tarmac

I\’m a linux newbie and have been trying to learn the ropes using Ubuntu. I very much like the netbook edition but I find myself distressed at this news. I loathe Chrome almost as much as I do Internet Exploder.

Can anyone tell me if it will be possible to dump Chromium from the new netbook distro and replace it with Firefox or will this somehow be locked out? Apologies again – I am a newbie.

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kgas

tarmac, this is not ubuntu forum :). yet you can remove chromium using synaptic package manager. System–>Administartion–>synaptic package manager.

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1fastbullet

As I recall, there were a number of user privacy concerns with Chrome which I don\’t expect have magically gone away. In fact, were those privacy issues not the purpose behind the creation of the Iron browser?
I know nothing about the Chromium browser. I would be interested in what and how it has addressed the privacy issues of Chrome.

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douglezzz

I was using Mozilla suites when they first came out. Remember Win 2000 \”lite\” where some of us gutted the registry and \’ removed\” all thingz Micro$haft.
LOL
I\’ll always be a Firefox or variation fan. I\’m on iceweasel and epiphany now.
They came in Debian Lenny so they stay.
They work flawlessly.

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basilf

I have been a user of Firefox on both Linux and Windows, I have tried Chromium and its dismal at best. UBUNTU please don\’t @$#$# with a good thing. Firefox has been there for Linux for most of the time I have been using Linux, it was the defacto browser. Chromium should die the good death it is not going to come close to Firefox. They said that about OPERA. Keep Firefox, please. If not it will be the first thing I replace. Stop trying to cozy up to Google, It ban enough ANDROID can\’t sync right with Linux and you need Windows to do so, what the @#$#$ is that all about. Chromium is a terrible browser on the same level Internet Explorer. Shame on UBUNTU on this detestable choice. Firefox will ALWAYS be my browser please don\’t pull a Microsoft.

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bempey

I live off Google APPs, and anyone who has tried to operate a spreadsheet of any size in gAPPs on Firefox knows how painfully slow it is.
So, I use Chrome for business (its MUCH faster than Firefox for gAPPs) but I use Firefox for personal, because it has more extensions that I don\’t want to give up.
This probably doesn\’t help the debate, but I find that they both have advantages depending on what you\’re needs are.

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collap

For general browsing I prefer Chrome as it loads quicker (Ubuntu 10.04) and like the google url handling (mixed url/search with suggestions), and the home page with snapshots of my most used sites
However:
Its complete rubbish with pdfs – I’d much rather have adobe reader (I use firefox if I want to read pdfs)
I much prefer a download window that stays there when I close the browser, forgetting that I’m in the middle of a 300mb download – and doesn’t loose it or take up real estate on the browser window.

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wundermute

Chromium provides a really good debugger, better than firebug imho.
What’s currently lacking is a real vimperator, clones are not as good as this firefox plugin. Also, chromium::Xmarks currently fails at not providing a home method placeholder. 2 strong arguments for my tastes. All in All chrome&ium stay as a good challenger to Opera & Firefox for common use. But some present bugs are weird: Chrome opening Firefox to handle a pdf, which one will finally launch my zathura pdf reader..

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I know this is like almost 3 years old, but people seem to forget that…well outside of the free Unix world where Mozilla is like a religion, an awesome one btw… Firefox was created for one main reason only and that reason was to knock off the ever buggy yet enduring piece of excrement that is IE. So what if Chrom* takes over or whatever, so long as IE dies Mozilla still wins. Finish him… Flawless victory!

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