With Googles Chrome dominating the market, not-for-profit rival Mozilla is staking a comeback on its dedication to privacy
Why do you choose the browser you use? Maybe you think it loads pages more quickly. Maybe its made by the same firm as your device and you think its more compatible in some way. You prefer the graphics, perhaps, or it just happened to be pre-installed on your machine. Maybe youre not even aware that theres a choice.
In reality, two-thirds of us have been funnelled into using Googles Chrome, but browser choice also hides a contest about the openness of the web and how data is collected about users. One organisation that has always put such issues to the forefront is Mozilla.
The not-for-profit foundation, which has as its aim the promotion of openness, innovation and participation on the internet, is best known for the Firefox browser, which it started developing in 2003. But the foundation was set up to shepherd the Mozilla organisation, which was formed in 1998 to oversee the development of a suite of web tools developed from another browser Netscape Communicator.
Communicator was Netscapes fourth browser; the first came out in 1994, making it the first commercial web browser the world had ever seen.
All of which makes Mozilla the webs oldest company or at least the oldest thing on the consumer internet, as the foundations chair, Mitchell Baker, put it when I met her in London recently.
Mozilla has had its ups and downs over the years: making a hugely popular web browser twice over, before succumbing each time to crushing competition from a well-funded tech behemoth. In the mid-90s, Netscape was killed by Microsoft with its Internet Explorer. Then, in the late 2000s, a resurgent Firefox faced near-fatal competition from Googles Chrome. Now, hopefully, it is on another upswing.
For the last I dont know three or four years, Id say Mozilla has been remaking the organisation itself, Baker says. The Firefox browser, which had resisted the dominance of Microsofts Internet Explorer, found itself faced with a far hardier opponent in the shape of Google Chrome.
However, the rise of the potentially monopolistic web platform also creates a new opportunity in fact, an urgent new mission. Mozilla is no longer fighting for market share of its browser: it is fighting for the future of the web.
In the early days, we thought all companies and social networks cared about us and cared for us, says Baker, speaking for web users as a whole. And increasingly it has become clear that, no, you need someone looking out for you.
Chrome, the worlds most popular browser, is made by the worlds fourth-most valuable company, Alphabet, the parent company of Google. The worlds second-most popular browser, Safari, is made by the worlds second-most valuable company Apple. In third place is Firefox.