Apple's Safari Gambit Could Hit Mozilla Hard

Safari video software Firefox

That's the word from solution providers reacting to Apple's controversial decision to tightly tie its music and video software for the first time with its Safari Web browser. The move comes with the first version of the five-year-old Safari Macintosh browser released for the more dominant Windows market. That Macintosh version, released on March 18, apparently triggered Apple to offer Safari as software update for iTunes and QuickTime.

"This could be a fairly substantial blow to Mozilla's Firefox," said Tyler Dikman, CEO of Cooltronics, a Tampa, Fla. solution provider, reacting to Apple's decision to push Safari version 3.1 for Windows XP/Vista and Mac OS X to users as an update. "Even if Safari gets 10 percent share on PC browsers that's pretty significant. I don't think it will put anyone out of business, but it sends a serious wake up call that Firefox isn't the only browser that's different. It shows that there is another player in the game and a lot of money to be made in the browser business."

"I don't think Safari is going to become the number one or number two browser for PCs in the next year, but I think over the next couple of years they may be able to surpass Firefox," said Dikman. The Apple move comes with Firefox growing in popularity as a PC-based browser.

Dikman, who is also vice president of business strategy for FlickIM, a Berkeley Calif. communications platform vendor, said Safari is popular with programmers, which also could hurt Firefox. "A lot of Web-based software engineers love programming on Safari," he said. "They think it is very simple and unified for development purposes."

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The Apple decision to offer Safari as a software update has sparked off a debate on the blogosphere regarding whether Apple is using its dominant market share position in the music download business to capture share in the Windows browser market.

Mozilla CEO John Lilly, for one, has used his blog to blast Apple for offering Safari as a software update. "What Apple is doing now with their Apple Software Update on Windows is wrong," he wrote in a blog post last Friday. "It undermines the trust relationship great companies have with their customers, and that's bad -- not just for Apple, but for the security of the whole Web.

"It's wrong because it undermines the trust that we're all trying to build with users," Lilly continued. "Because it means that an update isn't just an update, but is maybe something more. Because it ultimately undermines the safety of users on the Web by eroding that relationship. It's a bad practice and should stop." "I'll make 2 points that I want to make very clear: (1) this is not a criticism of Safari as a Web browser in any way, and (2) I have no objections to the basic industry practice of using your installed software as a channel for other software," added Lilly. "This is specifically a criticism of the way they're using the updating system. I'd much prefer to be writing about Firefox, but this practice hurts everyone and is important to note."

In a new post on Sunday, Lilly stressed that his criticism of Apple does not mean he is afraid of healthy competition with Safari.

"As a consumer, I want more competition," he said. "I want things like to put pressure on Intuit, for FriendFeed to put pressure on Facebook, for Netflix to put pressure on Blockbuster. And for other browsers (like Safari) to put pressure on IE, and, yes, Firefox. And I want competition in my role at Mozilla, too -- competition makes everyone work harder to listen to what people are saying about what they want, and to work harder to deliver something that is great.

"Firefox is better because there's competition from Safari and others -- that's great, because it means that normal people can find the software that works best for them and make their own choices," Lilly added. "Firefox 3 is an incredibly great browser, I think, and competition has helped that, resulting in things like our amazing memory footprint and the incredibly useful AwesomeBar and literally thousands of other improvements. Competition -- and choice -- is central to everything we do; without it, we're nowhere."

Dikman said he sees Apple's Safari gambit as yet another move by the computer maverick to become more dominant in the computer market. And with 100 million iPods sold and its dominant position in the music download business, Safari is sure to grab additional market share, he said.

"Apple is really trying to become a dominant player in the PC world," he said. "Apple is winning a lot of small battles and these small battles add up. If people use an Apple browser for music they may dive in and buy a Mac computer. I think that Apple is realizing that by diversifying into so many areas they will eventually be able to take over the standard PC computing world. I don't think it will happen tomorrow or next year, but a lot of my clients are starting to ask for Macs."