So there’s been a bit of Firefox news of late. First, everybody and their mother posted on the NY Times ad, then there was the actual NY Times article that discussed the gains the browser has made, and last we have Dave Winer highlighting an entry from John Robb. Both are asking the question that’s been on many people’s minds for a while:
At what level of market share (currently it is 89% and falling) does Micrsoft go into damage control and launch a crash program to rework IE? (link)
Now maybe it’s just the fact that I got zero sleep on the red eye from DIA last night, but I think Microsoft has an opportunity to really be creative here.
The conventional wisdom says that Microsoft is or will furiously reallocate resources to the IE team (and there have been some staffing changes already) to try and cement its still dominant position in the browser market. To be frank, this does seem to me to be the most likely approach based on Microsoft’s past history.
But is that the only possible Microsoft response? I don’t think so. The only realistic response, perhaps. But what if they were to support Firefox as a non-second class citizen, and offer it on equal footing with IE? Maybe even port Windows Update to it. Allow for a real apples to apples competition, may the best browser win. Heresy, I know. Still, consider the following:
- Microsoft’s behavior and product plans indicate that they do not view the browser as a strategic client anyway, so what have they to fear from Firefox? Maybe it’s an acceptable risk.
- If one accepts that Firefox is not a threat, it can then be viewed as an opportunity. Specifically, if Microsoft is looking for proof of their kinder, gentler ways, they’d be hard pressed to find a bigger, more visible proof point than supporting the open source browser that scored 12 million downloads for version 1.0.
- Supporting Firefox would certainly not have to mean an outright surrender in the broswer war. Indeed, it just might buy the PR breathing space needed to allow the IE team to do what it seems they have do – tear IE apart and start fresh.
Now despite my notable lack of sleep and the ludicrous nature of this proposal, I haven’t lost all my marbles just yet. I’m not saying the is probable, or really, even plausible given the current organizational context. What’s more, I don’t subscribe to the first point above, but of course the real question is – does Microsoft? And if so, what opportunities does that present?
From where I sit, it seems clear that Firefox is as much an opportunity as a threat for the Redmond software giant. It wouldn’t be a page from the typical Microsoft playbook, that’s for sure, but if the Times article’s tone is any indication, a change of tack might not be a bad thing.