Does Firefox mean anything more than another option for users fed up with what they perceive as slow development and rampant security problems with Internet Explorer? It might. As Firefox grows in popularity, Microsoft feels more pressure to compete with added features of its own. In a move that industry analysts attribute to Firefox's success (but Microsoft attributes to IE6 security risks), Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 8 separately from its Windows operating system.
Now that Firefox has a healthy share of the browser market, it will start getting a lot more attention, and not all of it welcome. The efforts of hackers focusing on the upstart browser could cause security problems. The result might be an ongoing, ever-escalating arms race as programmers race to patch security holes and hackers find new ones -- much like the current situation with Internet Explorer. Higher usage rates will also remove one of the benefits of using Firefox that appeals to many users -- it's something different.
The fact that Firefox is based on open source code also has implications. Not only is the program free to download and use, but the code is also freely available -- to look at, develop independently and release in an altered form. It's likely that some developers will grow dissatisfied with the direction of Firefox and splinter off to form their own version. Already, there are alternate builds of Firefox available, though they lack the stability of the official release.
Another possible problem with Firefox is its ability to block advertisements on Web sites. Although some ads are obtrusive and annoying, they also pay for the huge amount of information available on many sites (like this one). If people can quickly and easily avoid seeing those ads, Web sites will have to find a new business model for providing content while turning a profit.
One survey indicates that Firefox users are less likely to click on Web ads than users of other browsers, but this seems to be more an indication of greater Internet savvy than of ad-blocking [source: Marson]. One solution to the problem: Advertisers need to create better ads, ones that aren't malicious or deceptive. Ads that mimic Windows error messages or system dialogue boxes are universally hated, while flashing, blinking and scrolling ads are distracting for almost everyone.
The problem may not be as serious as some think. Removing all banner ads on Web pages doesn't come built into Firefox -- users have to install an extension. If Firefox's market share grows, it will reach more users who are less technically inclined -- users who are less likely to seek out and install extensions.