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How not to launch a browser

Mozilla's launch of Firefox 3 was a poorly conceived marketing exercise and has let down an excellent product.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

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Some history

I’ve been a Firefox user since around version 0.4 and I have used Firefox as my main browser for development work when creating web interfaces for pretty much all of my career. I’ve been very impressed with how Firefox has managed to grow its market share pretty much on the back of word of mouth and pleased to see it challenging Internet Explorer as the main browser in the market. I’m not anti-Microsoft but I consider it bad for the internet that Internet Explorer is both the worst product and the market leader. Firefox is open source and follows web standards, both important considerations to allow free and open access to the internet for all. In short I’m a big fan of Firefox and what it has done for me and for the web.

Firefox 3

I often poke around the treasure chest that is the Mozilla FTP site and somehow I found out about the Gran Paradiso release which has grown into Firefox 3. Product wise it is a massive improvement. John Resig (admittedly he works for Mozilla) has performed analysis on memory usage as well as highlighting colour profiles, Microformats and the native getElementsByClassName. It is doing pretty well on the Acid 3 test too (71100 on my test) which tests the standards compliance of browsers even though both Opera and WebKit have achieved a full pass.

Firefox 3 might not be the most cutting edge browser but coupled with UI improvements to more closely integrate with your OS and feature enhancements it is a pretty solid and highly marketable release. A marketing team’s dream you might think?

Fffail!

Watching Twitter yesterday there was one tweet that summed up the launch of Firefox 3 for me. Lodewijk Schutte had enough and said simply “Fffail”. I agreed and for me the marketing campaign that Mozilla ran for this launch fell flat on its face. The campaign let the product down with some poorly thought out strategy and a lack of anticipation of demand. Here’s where I think they got it wrong.

Bad timing

Mozilla marketed the launch of Firefox 3 as an attempt to break the world download record. Not much focus on a better product there. That is fine - marketing gimmicks often capture the imagination of course. But Mozilla chose to launch Download Day at 10 AM PST. Have a look at this time in relation to other global time zones. For a global launch this is a terrible choice. PST is an extremely westerly time zone and meant that Asia, Africa and Europe had pretty much gone home before Download Day had started.

Demand != Planning ability

So what happened when people like me in Europe stayed late at work to get involved in Download Day? The servers crashed and I was unable to download the browser. WTF? You are attempting to break a World Record and you haven’t anticipated extremely high demand? Surely any marketing team worth its salt must anticipate this? A PR stunt had quickly turned into a PR disaster.

Why do I care?

I care because Firefox is a great product and has the ability to make the web better for everyone by flexing its muscles as a product and becoming the market leader. Remember that somehow we are still in a situation where Internet Explorer is dominant in the market. The launch of Firefox 3 was a real opportunity to push Firefox into the general consciousness of the web and to increase market share significantly. Windows of opportunity are extremely small in marketing and to get it so wrong at launch is depressing for all involved. It resulted in major blogs like ReadWriteWeb posting links to downloads of Opera 9.5 or Flock instead. This really isn’t what Download Day should have been.

Download it!

In spite of the somewhat damp launch the development team should be congratulated on this release which is a major step in the life of Firefox, arguably the most used Open Source software on the web. If you didn’t manage to get a copy yesterday you can get a direct download for your OS here.

Have an update or suggestion for this article? You can edit it here and send me a pull request.

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