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How Firefox won the 2017 browser wars

It’s been a great year for Firefox. After falling behind its rivals in terms of speed and market share, Mozilla launched itself back into the game in 2017 with Firefox Quantum – the browser’s biggest update since its first release in 2004.

“We fell behind for five years, so it feels good to come out swinging,” Mark Mayo, vice president of Firefox, told TechRadar just before the launch of Quantum in November. We’re just going to go straight at them!”

Quantum is a huge step up for Firefox, with speeds that challenge Chrome and a new interface designed to make browsing a smooth, more pleasant experience, but it was just one part of Mozilla’s 2017 success story.

Focus on privacy

Along with speed, privacy was one of Mozilla’s biggest focal points for 2017. We spoke to Mayo at Mozilla’s Glass Room exhibition in London – a pop-up art exhibition exploring the way our personal data is harvested, used and sold when we use online services – often without us fully realizing.

Exhibits including an eight-hour video of a man reading the full Kindle terms and conditions, printed books of leaked LinkedIn logins that visitors could check for their own details, and a vast web of pins and string showing the hundreds of connections between Google and other online service providers.

The Glass Room pop-up art installation pulled no punches, highlighting the way other web companies collect, use and share your personal data

The show pulled no punches, and followed the release of the privacy-focused Firefox Focus for Android. The mobile browser, which was released for iOS in 2016, automatically deletes users’ browsing history at the end of each session. It also disables ads that track browsing activity, which has a knock-on effect of speeding up page load times.

“The focus is on simplicity, so you don’t have to go into private mode in your usual browser – you’re there straight away,” Barbara Bermes, senior product manager of Firefox Mobile Browsers, told us after the launch.

There’s no desktop version of Focus in the works yet, but Chromebook users can download it from the Google Play Store like any other app.

Firefox on phones

Mobile will continue to be a particular focus for Firefox in 2018, as the team aim to bring some of the improvements from Quantum to the small screen. There’s already been a halo effect, with installs of the mobile browser picking up pace since November.

It’s a challenge Mayo is looking forward to. “There’s more need for big leaps in performance on mobile than on desktop,” he told us just before Christmas, when we caught up to discuss 2017’s highlights, and what we can expect to see in the new year.

Firefox Focus for Android

Firefox Focus came to Android in 2017, letting you browse on mobile without leaving a trace

“The big [achievement] I’m super happy about is that we were able to release a new Firefox,” he said. “That’s been especially great for the team after a pretty intense 18 months.”

He sees Quantum’s speed as great news for all internet users, forcing Microsoft and Google to focus on delivering quicker, smoother performance as well.

“Other browsers should get faster as well,” he told us. “It’s just going to be great for all users because everyone is going to compete on speed again, which hasn’t happened for a while. Chrome will get faster, Edge will get faster.”

Mozilla is far from done, though. The Quantum project as a whole is only halfway done, so we’re expecting plenty more developments in the new year – on all platforms. That’s good for everyone; as Mayo says: “When the web gets better, everyone wins”.