Firefox hits 1 billion downloads -- so what's next?

To be clear, that's 1 billion total downloads since Firefox's 2004 debut

Mozilla's Firefox Web browser has just hit a new milestone, reaching its 1 billionth user download. The big event happened Thursday night, according to the company's official download counter.

To be clear, that's 1 billion total downloads since Firefox's 2004 debut -- an atypical type of statistic to flaunt. Still, if you look at the more standard measures of success, Firefox is showing impressive growth, while the long-time industry giant continues to slide.

Firefox and the Browser Market

Measuring the first 30 days of July, Firefox holds an average of 30.5 percent of the global browser market, according to data from Web metrics firm StatCounter. Internet Explorer, on the other hand, sits at 60.12 percent. Safari and Chrome are tied at just over 3 percent, and Opera trails behind at 2.65 percent.

Where those numbers become more significant is in a year-to-year comparison: For the same time period in 2008, Firefox held 26.07 percent of the global browser market, while IE held 68.64 percent. Safari had 3.31 percent, Opera had 1.77 percent, and Chrome -- well, Chrome was still just an improper noun back then.

Putting that into perspective, Firefox has grown its userbase by 17 percent, comparing its July '08 and July '09 numbers. IE, in the same comparison, has lost 12.4 percent of its users worldwide. Even the recent release of Internet Explorer 8 did little to help win over new fans for the once untouchable heavyweight.

Firefox and the Future

So what happens from here? The one certainty is that the browser market is in a state of flux. Even the smaller alternative browsers are slowly reshaping the playing field: In July of 2008, the alternatives made up only about 5 percent of the market. By July of 2009, with the addition of Chrome, they collectively have 8.67 percent of all worldwide users -- a growth of 70.6 percent from the previous year.

In the big picture, IE maintains an advantage with its default preinstalled placement on Windows computers, as well as with its frequent adoption within the corporate world. The former factor, however, is starting to fade: Microsoft is for the first time shipping versions of Windows without IE preinstalled, thanks to the European Commission case surrounding anti-competition laws. That's a significant change.

As for the latter factor -- corporate browser usage -- that may be Firefox's toughest hurdle to overcome. Numerous analyses over the years have identified the enterprise realm as Mozilla's Achilles' heel. Though the company is taking steps to try to encourage corporate use of its product, many question whether the browser is ready for widespread business adoption.

However it is or isn't being used, what's remained constant with Firefox has been its ongoing growth alongside IE's nonstop drop. From a statistical standpoint, that trend certainly seems to suggest the great browser race is far from finished; the tides, it appears, have plenty more shifting ahead.

Connect with JR Raphael on Twitter (@jr_raphael) or via his Web site, jrstart.com.

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