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Can Firefox survive in a Google world?

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The red panda is the longtime mascot of Mozilla, developer of the Firefox browser.


(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Last week, Microsoft announced it was throwing in the towel on its EdgeHTML development effort and switching to the open-source Chromium engine. That’s a big win for Google, which maintains that codebase and uses it as the core of Google Chrome. It’s arguably a big win for Microsoft’s enterprise customers, too, who can now count on having a standards-compliant browser that works with all their modern web-based apps.

You know who was not among the winners? Mozilla, makers of the Firefox browser.

Also: Microsoft Edge: What went wrong, what’s next

In a doom-and-gloom-soaked post on the Mozilla Blog, CEO Chris Beard criticized Microsoft’s decision even as he acknowledged that it “may well make sense” in business terms even as it poses an existential threat to the non-profit Mozilla:

We compete with Google not because it’s a good business opportunity. We compete with Google because the health of the internet and online life depend on competition and choice. They depend on consumers being able to decide we want something better and to take action.

[…]

If one product like Chromium has enough market share, then it becomes easier for web developers and businesses to decide not to worry if their services and sites work with anything other than Chromium. That’s what happened when Microsoft had a monopoly on browsers in the early 2000s before Firefox was released. And it could happen again.

Unfortunately, Mozilla’s relationship with Google is… Well, let’s just say it’s complicated. Yes, Firefox competes with Google in the browser market, but Google also literally pays to keep the lights on at Mozilla.

Two weeks ago, Mozilla released its annual report, including audited financial statements for 2017. In that report, it acknowledged that “[t]oday, the majority of Mozilla Corporation revenue is generated from global browser search partnerships, including the deal negotiated with Google in 2017 following Mozilla’s termination of its search agreement with Yahoo/Oath….”

In fact, more than 89 percent of Mozilla Corporation’s $562 Million in income in 2017 came from search engine royalties, and almost all that appears to have come from Google. (Yandex is the default Firefox search engine in Russia and Baidu is the default in China. Google is the default in the United States and other developed markets.)

That fact is, tellingly, listed under the “Concentration of risk” heading in the Mozilla 2017 financial statement (PDF).


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The current search-engine contracts run out in November 2020, less than two years from now. If Google decides to end that search relationship or change its terms in a material way, the financial impact would be devastating on Mozilla. With $514 million in cash on hand and $421 million in annual expenses, it would only be able to operate for about 15 months without cutting another search deal.

Unfortunately for Mozilla, most of the market forces that forced Microsoft Edge to give up on its independent browser engine apply equally to Firefox.

Despite excellent reviews, the Firefox Quantum browser, released in late 2017, hasn’t been able to steal any significant usage share on desktop platforms. Depending on which source you look at, Firefox continues to be stuck in the high single digits as a percentage of overall browser usage.

In the latest figures from the US Government Digital Analytics Program, for example, Firefox accounted for exactly 8 percent of traffic from Windows PCs and Macs, compared to 8.44 percent for Microsoft Edge and 7.9 percent for Safari. That comparison is even worse than it appears, because Edge can’t even be installed on devices running MacOS or versions of Windows other than Windows 10, and the desktop version of Safari runs only on the Mac.

If you look only at mobile operating systems, Firefox is a non-starter, with one-half of 1 percent of web traffic as measured by DAP, which is slightly less than Amazon’s Silk browser. Part of the problem might be that Google treats Firefox as a second-class citizen, as ZDNet’s Chris Duckett reported in July 2018:

“We are focused on providing a great experience for search across browsers, and continue to work to improve this for all users,” a Google spokesperson told ZDNet.

“Firefox uses the Gecko engine, which requires us to do extensive testing on all of our features to ensure compatibility, as it’s different from WebKit (which is used by Chrome, Safari, UC, Opera). We’ve done this for Firefox desktop, but have not done the same level of testing for mobile.”

That’s the same problem that Microsoft’s engineers cited as their primary reason for giving up on EdgeHTML. I’ve heard that the overwhelming majority of the time and energy that EdgeHTML developers spent over the past three years has been on fixing compatibility problems with sites that didn’t work properly because they were only tested on WebKit and Chromium-based browsers.

Can Mozilla afford the technical costs of maintaining the only rendering engine and browser code base that isn’t based on WebKit or Blink (Google’s Chromium-based fork of WebKit)?

The brutal nature of competition in the modern technology landscape suggests that Mozilla’s mission of providing an alternative to the Google monoculture is admirable and probably doomed to failure. The big question is whether Google will continue to pay royalties to keep Mozilla afloat after 2020. That might happen, just as insurance against potential antitrust action.

PREVIOUS AND RELATED COVERAGE:

Mozilla: Why Microsoft Edge’s switch to Google’s Chromium is bad news

Microsoft’s move probably won’t help Edge and it’s also bad for the open web, say Mozilla, Vivaldi.

Microsoft confirms that Chrome extensions will run on new Edge browser

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser could close the extension gap.

Microsoft’s Edge to morph into a Chromium-based, cross-platform browser

Microsoft is going to remake its Edge desktop browser by using Chromium components and by bringing it to Windows 7, 8.1 and macOS, in addition to Windows 10.

Microsoft Edge: What went wrong, what’s next

Microsoft’s grand browser experiment flopped in the marketplace, so the company is turning to an unlikely successor: the open-source Chromium project. Can it succeed where EdgeHTML failed?

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How To Easily Find Electric Car Charging Points Near You

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Electric cars are the future of the automobile industry, with virtually every manufacturer already building electric vehicles (EVs). Many manufacturers have even gone a step further, committing to an all-EV lineup in the near future.

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Despite how quickly the industry is pivoting to EVs, range anxiety is still the biggest issue slowing down faster adoption. For example, one study showed that 1 in 5 California plug-in EV owners end up going back to gasoline-powered vehicles over range anxiety and the difficulty involved in quickly charging an EV.

If you’re a current EV owner or considering becoming one, knowing how to easily find all available EV charging points near you is an important step in easing range anxiety and enjoying your EV. Fortunately, there’s a couple of easy ways to do it.

Use Google Maps In Your Vehicle

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One of the easiest ways to find nearby EV charging stations is by using Google Maps.

Google’s in-vehicle version of Google Maps offers a number of features designed to reduce range anxiety. For longer trips, the software can help plan your route according to available charging stations, and even make recommendations on when and where you should stop for a charge.

“Now when you enter a destination that requires two or more recharge stops, algorithms in Maps will search and filter through tens to thousands of public charging stations to find the most efficient route — all in less than 10 seconds,” writes Alex Donaldson, Product Manager, Google Maps. “You can see how long each charge will take and your updated total trip time, so your final ETA will never again be a mystery.”

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the list of EVs with Google’s software built-in is still relatively short but includes the Polestar 2 and Volvo XC40 Recharge.

Use Google Maps On Your Phone

Google Maps on Android phone

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If you don’t own one of the vehicles that have Google’s mapping software built-in, you can still use Maps on your phone to access many of the same features.

Beginning in 2019, Google started adding EV charging information into Maps, and users can now find charging locations, as well as important information about each location. For example, you can find out what kind of charging ports are supported, what charging speeds are offered, and how many stations are currently available.

“Simply search for ‘ev charging stations’ to see up to date information from networks like Chargemaster, EVgo, SemaConnect and soon, Chargepoint,” writes Donaldson. “You’ll then see how many ports are currently available, along with other helpful details, like the business where the station is located, port types and charging speeds. You’ll also see information about the station from other drivers, including photos, ratings, reviews and questions.”

Use Apple Maps

Apple Maps on an iPhone

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Similarly, Apple Maps provides an easy way to find nearby charging stations. Beginning with iOS 14, Apple added the ability to plan your route according to your vehicle and compatible charging locations.

“Electric vehicle routing adds charging stops along a planned route based on current vehicle charge and charger types,” notes Apple in the iOS 14 press release.

Thanks to Google and Apple, overcoming range anxiety has never been easier. All the information you need to plan your trip or go about your day’s activity is right at your fingertips.

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2022 Ford Ranger Splash Limited Edition returns with nature-themed color variants

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American legacy automaker Ford started rolling out the Splash Package and Splash Limited Edition for its Ford Ranger midsize pickup truck last year. Both offer a “splash” of unique, one-time-only color themes and bespoke equipment, and Ford promises to drop new Splash themes every few months.

Images: Ford Motor Co.
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Apple CarPlay on a Tesla made possible with this hack

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Tesla might be most controversial for its misunderstood and misused self-driving features, but for a certain number of car owners, its biggest is simpler. Tesla still refuses to play ball with Apple and add support for CarPlay or even Apple Music, no matter how loud its customers clamor for it. It doesn’t seem that things will be changing soon, so a developer tried to take matters into his own hands with relative success.

Image: Tesla

Pi Power

Although initially intended to be more of an educational tool, the Raspberry Pi has become the darling of makers, hackers, and developers who need an affordable yet almost complete computer that’s the size of a credit card (but way, way thicker). It can run a variety of operating systems, including even Windows, and with some add-ons, it can do almost everything that a regular PC can and more.

Image Credit: Michał Gapiński/Twitter

That’s what Polish developer Michał Gapiński did when he set out to solve one of the biggest pain points about Tesla: its lack of support for Apple CarPlay or Music.

Image Credit: Michał Gapiński/Twitter

He installed an Android-based ROM on the single-board computer (SBC) and turned it into a Wi-Fi access point. Connecting the Tesla’s browser to the Raspberry Pi gives access to CarPlay and all its features, making it look like Apple’s in-vehicle infotainment system is actually running on Tesla’s dash. It even works with steering wheel controls

Tesla and Apple

For reasons still unknown, Tesla refuses to support even Apple Music on its cars. Both companies want full control of the software running inside vehicles, so it’s not surprising that their ideologies clash. That said, almost all carmakers today support Apple CarPlay or even just streaming from Apple Music, leaving Tesla as the odd one out.

Image Credit: Michał Gapiński/Twitter

Gapiński’s workaround is hardly ideal, but the lack of any official solution leaves people with very few options. The developer is working on refining the system, but it will always be a hack in many other ways. Gapiński promises to make it available to the public once it reaches a more decent state.

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