14 January 2008

Mozilla's Middle Kingdom Mess

Mozilla is a disaster in China:

With more than 160 million Internet users, China is the world's second-largest Net market and is likely to overtake the U.S. as No. 1 by the end of the decade. More than four-fifths of China's Internet users use IE to go online, mostly because it's bundled with the Windows operating system. Homegrown companies Maxthon—a private company based in Hong Kong—and Tencent —the Shenzhen-based operator of China's most popular instant messaging service—both have browsers based on IE kernels that are the second and third most commonly used in China.

Mozilla estimates there are 3.5 million regular Firefox users in China, giving it just 2% of the market. (According to June, 2007, figures by Onestat, Mozilla has a 19.65% market share in the U.S.) Mozilla has set a goal of grabbing a 5% market share in China "as quickly as possible," says Gong.

The problem?

In the West, Mozilla has been able to eat away at IE's market share by promoting Firefox as a free open-source software project. In China, the open-source movement is having a harder time gaining traction because of widespread software piracy. With pirated copies of Windows XP or Vista selling on the street for less than $2, there is little economic incentive for Chinese Internet users to download Firefox.

The solution?

Bill Xu, founder of the ZEUUX Free Software Community, a Beijing group that promotes open source, points out that for Firefox to succeed in China, it shouldn't compete on cost but by stressing its security features. "IE isn't very secure. It's plagued with a lot of add-ons, malware, and viruses. Firefox is more secure, and that's the main reason a lot of users choose it," he says.

Well, I think this may require some more creative thinking. It's not just a matter of saying "security", not least because Firefox has its own security problems, and it will be easy to defeat that tactic. Perhaps we need more Firefox plugins that serve the Chinese market, specific to the Chinese language, for example.

In any case, this is getting serious: failure to make inroads into the Chinese browser market undoes much of the good work in Europe, where Firefox is getting close to a majority share in some markets.


asadotzler@gmail.com said...

We're actually making great strides in China. Just a year ago, before we created Mozilla China, we had near-zero marketshare and we're on the road to 5%. That's a pretty big turnaround in a fairly short period of time.

The major problem in China today, as I see it, is the problem we faced in the West about 3 years ago -- web developers designing sites for IE with no testing in other browsers. The first 5% is really difficult in that world. We made some great dents in the West with Mozilla between 2002 and 2004 (pre-Firefox) that helped set the stage for Firefox's big climb starting in 2004.

Once you get up into the ~5% range, or some critical mass for your region, then web sites start realizing that they're losing business by not including you in their development. That's the corner we need to turn in China, and a few other Asian countries.

I think we're turning that corner now in Japan -- thanks to a big local push that included the creation of Mozilla Japan. With somewhere between 5 and 10% of the market there, web sites are starting to do more to ensure Firefox compatibility. That took us a couple of years there and I expect that China will take a couple of years to get rolling as well.

- A

Glyn Moody said...

I see: so you think it's a question of critical mass: I hope you're right.

I worry that there may be local issues (for example the very low street price of Windows, and the existence of the very interesting Maxthon browser) that may make China a tougher nut to crack than Europe or even Japan.