Firefox 3 disappoints some Canadian users

Kaitlyn McLachlan, a developer with Toronto-based Clear Sky Media Inc., built add-ons to the Firefox browser several months ago that she looks forward to enhancing with the latest version released by Mozilla Corp. this week.

McLachlan downloaded Firefox 3 the day after it became available and finds that it performs faster and comes with “great new features.” Users of Clear Sky Media’s sites are already asking for compatibility of the add-ons with the new browser version, she said.

Firefox 3, an open source browser, includes new functionality such as a new search tool, anti-hacking protection and revamped bookmarking.

Clear Sky Media offers users of its retail information site a Firefox add-on in the form of a tool bar that provides users with quick links to various sections of the site. Other functionality includes an alert for incoming private messages when users are not logged onto the site; the ability to troll the site’s pages for merchandise; and an easy view of new product deals as they appear throughout the site.

After just several months, the toolbar has garnered about 4,000 users and McLachlan hopes to further drive that number by leveraging the new features of Firefox 3.

The company’s other Firefox add-on, albeit simpler, is for users of the shopping comparison search engine site and allows visitors to highlight words on the page, right-click, and search the site for that item.

But Hugh Thompson, administrator and publisher of consumer technology discussion forum Digital Home Canada, has observed from visitor site comments that Firefox 3 is not as well-received as its predecessor, however, it is overall a welcome software release.

“From a rendering engine and improved performance point of view, it’s a great piece of software,” said Thompson, however, the user interface has met with mixed reviews.

But he noted that “very little of the newness of the product is above the covers” and to some extent, Firefox 3 was marketed as a revolutionary product, when it fact it’s an evolutionary one.

Basically, the response to the “leaps and bounds” functionality of Firefox 2 – which was enough, he said, to convert him to the open source browser – is comparatively muted with version 3.

But the lukewarm reaction to Firefox 3 won’t discourage developers from building browser add-ons, said Thompson, because the good news is browsers in general – Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer – are “coming closer to rendering Web pages properly and doing it in a compliant Web standard kind of way.” And, historically that has not been the case.

While Firefox 3 may be slightly disappointing to the user community, he highly recommends users upgrade to the new version, and noted that the degree of excitement around browser releases has subsided over the years.

Statistics around the open source browser from February 2008 by indicate that although Canadian adoption has risen to 21 per cent from 16 per cent in 2006, Canada is surpassed by Germany, Belgium and Australia.

Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada Ltd., said that Firefox adoption in Canada falls more or less within the worldwide range and is “well into the double digits.”

He’s actually not surprised that European countries would fare better in adoption, considering the positive regard for open source technology compared to that in North America.

From the perspective of the developer looking to build add-ons to the browser, the fact that the source code is free is a good driver to adoption, said Restivo. One such successful Firefox add-on by a Canadian developer is StumbleUpon, a site that lets visitors discover and rate sites, photos and videos. It was eventually sold to eBay.

Mozilla has also become more public relations savvy when it comes to marketing Firefox and getting the message out “in a more refined fashion as time has gone on,” said Restivo. As part of the Firefox 3 launch, Mozilla said it would attempt a Guinness World Record for the largest number of software downloads in a 24-hour timeframe. It clocked more than 8 million downloads in the first 24 hours.

But open source and public relations savvy aside, Firefox is a “really strong platform for developers,” said Restivo.

However, the problems that typically slow adoption of a Web browser are more pronounced with open source projects, noted Restivo. Specifically, “community bottlenecks” can occur during development when a group of volunteer members are tasked with making decisions around what ultimately gets implemented.

“Attracting open source developers will be key to future development of Firefox,” he said.

McLachlan thinks that although PCs come pre-installed with Internet Explorer, the Firefox browser is pushing itself out there and making significant headway. It’s reaching many users including the not-so-technically-inclined.

“It’s already including features that won’t make it into Internet Explorer 8,” she said.

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