Emerging battlefield: Browser installers

Posted by Christian Zibreg

Chicago (IL) - Mozilla was
surprised to discover that, every day, 50,000 people do not install
Firefox after a successful software download. At the same time,
Safari and Chrome leverage installers to their own
advantage in a very efficient way. You could easily overlook this
scenario, but
it is more and more apparent that browser installers matter and may
impact market share gains or losses in a big way. So, Mozilla went to
work and is now developing a modified installer for future
Firefox versions.



 

Mozilla knows that you downloaded and installed Firefox when you launch the browser for the first time and the welcome landing page is displayed. But the organization found that there are 50,000
canceled installations every day, which translates to 18 million
annually. It is no surprise that Mozilla felt compelled to act: It said that improving experience for just 3000 users of the group of 50,000 would
translate into upward of 2 million additional Firefox users annually (or, if we believe data from Net Applications, an increase in market share of about 0.2%.)
Last month, the organization posted a revised Firefox installer on its servers for 24 hours , which shows users who canceled installation a feedback form.

42% of the respondents said they canceled because an existing Firefox installation would not exit properly (zombie process), while 41% said they did not have the required access privileges. 7% canceled because they were "confused" with the upgrade. The surprising findings (detailed here, here and here)
motivated Mozilla to tweak the installer for future Firefox versions in
an effort to reduce funnel (percentage of users lost during each
installation step).

Rival browser vendors leverage installers to their
own benefit. Apple, for example, came under heavy fire from Mozilla
for tricking users into installing its Safari browser via the Apple Software Update utility that installs as part of iTunes and QuickTime. Others, like Google, design installers with market share in mind.

MOZILLA ASKS WHY YOU CANCELLED FIREFOX INSTALLER
Mozilla posted a tweaked Firefox installer on its servers last month. It greeted users who canceled Firefox installation with a form, pictured above, that was created to capture clues why 50,000 users do not install the browser - every day.
[Click for slideshow]

Chrome: Silent installer that drives market share

Chrome's
light 0.5 MB installer arrives in seconds, so most users download the software in the background and are able to continue with their work, meaning that
the number of users who forget to run the downloaded installer is
zero. When the installer is launched, it starts downloading the most
recent installation files and then installs Chrome without the user's
intervention. One click on the Chrome download page is all it takes to
install the browser. In addition, Google cleverly installs Chrome in the Application Data folder located inside the user profile. As a result, Chrome installer does not call an UAC prompt and does not require admin privileges.

Chrome's silent updating

There is a silent
auto-update mechanism that installs as part of Chrome and keeps running
on your system in the background and allows Google to update Chrome on your
system even if the browser isn't running. Most average users don't know
how to manually remove the Chrome updater from their system so they always run the latest version. Even a simple check of the version number by
choosing About Google Chrome under the wrench menu
automatically initiates a download if there's new version found. In
short, once you have Chrome installed, you don't have to manually
upgrade to a newer version.

If you think that is irrelevant, remember
how Firefox 2.x remained dominant months after 3.0 came out. Yes, users
are better off manually managing Firefox upgrades due to the possible
conflicts with addons, a feature Chrome still lacks. Chrome's
silent updating is also a big no-no in business environments where
admins upgrade only when they thoroughly test a new version and not when
Google says it's ok.

Conclusion: Installers matter

A tiny detail in the browser arena
translates into a potential loss or gain of millions of users. In this
respect, Chrome is the clear leader when it comes to keeping Chrome users up
to date. Firefox' six-step installer, dependencies on users' privilege
rights and a rather ineffective built-in updater leave a lot to be desired
and are largely blamed for the fact that one in seven Firefox downloaders
does not install the browser. Now that Mozilla and other
browser vendors are starting to pay attention to such details is an interesting new trend, no matter how you look at it.

THE RESULTS ARE IN; FIREFOX INSTALLER IS TO BLAME
Findings of the survey surprised even Firefox developers. Nearly 90% of users who provided written feedback said they canceled the installation  due to the "zombie" Firefox process (42%) or the lack of sufficient privileges on their system, Google cleverly installs in users profile directory, avoiding an UAC prompt and circumventing admin privileges.
[Click for slideshow]