For many users of Mozilla's open source Firefox Web browser, Firefox is simply a tool for looking at Web content. For others, Firefox is an enabling tool to actually help develop content and code for the Web.
This week, Mozilla released the results of a developer survey it conducted in November 2009. The survey received responses from 5,054 developers spread across 119 countries and provides some insights into how developers work with Firefox -- and what about Firefox makes it so critical as a tool for developing.
The survey found that the chief reason for Firefox's popularity as a developer tool is its large ecosystem of Web development add-ons. Almost 90 percent of those polled cited Firefox's developer-centric add-ons as being central to their Web development efforts -- ahead of text editors (approximately 65 percent) ; graphics applications like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or the open source Gimp (about 45 percent); and tools like Eclipse, IE8 Developer Tools, Safari Inspector, Dreamweaver and Flash, all of which came in at under 30 percent usage.
"In fact, add-ons are seen by some respondents as the main reason to use Firefox," Mozilla said. "However, some blame them for slowing down Firefox."
Mozilla has made some effort with its Firefox 3.6 browser releaseto ensure improved add-on security. Work is also underway on the next generation of add-ons technology by way of the Mozilla Jetpack project.
"While Firefox is often referred to as a developers best friend, Firebug is called 'a must-have tool' and 'essential', " Mozilla said. "Some even go as far as saying that developing websites without Firefox and Firebug is unimaginable."
Testing against multiple Web browsers: Bad news for IE6
While respondents use Firefox as part of their development efforts, their browser relationship isn't exclusive. According to Mozilla, on average developers test their projects in five different browsers.
"At the time of this survey (Nov 09), the top browsers tested for compatibility were Firefox 3.5, IE8, IE7, Chrome, and Safari. IE6 only came in 6th place with less than 50 percent of developers still testing against it," Mozilla said. "With more sites dropping support for IE6 each day, we expect this number to continue to decrease over time."
Support of IE6 in general is on the wane as major sites including Google are dropping support of the outdated Microsoft browser release.
The survey also found that for home use, developers were still using more than one browser. While the majority are using Firefox, respondents also noted that they were using Chrome and Safari as well.
Mozilla's survey also asked developers about where they learned their development skills. More than 90 percent of respondent noted that they were self-taught with skills they learned online.
The Mozilla Developer survey is updated on a quarterly basis. A new survey for March is currently underway and seeking responces.