Aug 30, 2011

Marketing implications of benchmarking Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer

Benchmarks for Browsers
Material for this table from Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols blog “Firefox 6: A Firefox too far?
Benchmark system:
·   Gateway DX4710
·   Windows 7 SP1
·   2.5 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor
·    6 GB RAM
·    Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100
·    Netgear Gigabit Ethernet switch
·    60 Mbps cable Internet connection.
White cells indicate best scores
Firefox 6
Chrome 13
IE 9
1.    Acid 3 compliance with web standards (JavaScript, CSS, Extensible XML, etc.)
Max score = 100; higher is better
2.    HTML5 Test
Max score = 400; higher is better
3.    Mozilla Kraken 1.0 JavaScript benchmark
Lower is better
4.    Google JavaScript V8 Benchmark Suite
Higher is better
5.    Peacekeeper JavaScript benchmark
Higher is better
6.    SunSpider 0.9.1 oldest JavaScript benchmark
Lower is better

Comparing browsers with benchmark programs can reveal browsers’ strengths and weaknesses, and possibly implications for the browser product strategy. The ZDnet blogger Steven Vaughan-Nichols chose six benchmarks.

Comparing the performance of several browsers on the same very capable computer with a high-speed connection is the most objective way to see which browser
  • enables you to browse the web faster
  • displays the most web page types with no problems
  • supports most-used web applications
  • taxes your local PC the least.
Of course, the configuration of your local PC, both hardware and software, especially the operating system, and your web connection will greatly affect how any program, including browsers, works.

Acid 3, the first benchmark in the list, tests for a collection of widely used browser features such as memory usage and web tools such as JavaScript, CSS, XML. It’s a general baseline rather than optimized for any particular aspect such as JavaScript. Four of the benchmarks mentioned here test for JavaScript.

The second benchmark, for HTML 5, is the one I am most interested in because HTML 5 is a new standard that adds capabilities with productivity benefits for users. For example, it shifts some of the ‘heavy lifting’ of web applications like Flash to the ‘cloud’ rather than making your local PC do the lifting. It obviates plug-ins – no more downloading plug-ins before certain web tools work.

HTML5 was accepted as a standard less than a year ago so HTML5-type web pages aren’t very common yet. This might be why the newer browsers, Firefox 6 and Chrome, benchmarked about the same whereas Internet Explorer (IE) lagged significantly. The product strategy implication may be that IE decided to adopt new standards more slowly  because it’s more important to take the time to make new versions better backward-compatible in order to maintain an workable upgrade path for IE's huge number of existing customers, especially those in enterprises who tend to be slow to upgrade.

Chrome is the newest of the three browsers so it has a smaller ‘installed base’ that it must ‘bring along’ and less legacy code with which it must be compatible.

Firefox is neither the oldest browser nor the newest but it has the most frequent releases of the three browsers. It already has the largest market share (see table below) and its users tend to be naive and early adopters. So why run the release treadmill so much faster than the competition? Frequent releases do deliver new features faster, but releases always also include fixes such as for security holes and compatibility problems.

The last four of the six benchmarks in the table above are for JavaScript. Good JavaScript performance is really important because it’s the main language for browsers and websites. It’s also used in applications that are outside of web pages such as PDF, site-specific browsers, and desktop widgets.

It’s surprising that Firefox 6 didn’t ‘win’ Kraken (the third benchmark in table above) because it is Mozilla's own JavaScript benchmark. They must identify which aspects of Kraken are causing Firefox to get low marks. In any case, Mozilla should either optimize Firefox for Kraken or adjust the benchmark. Mozilla’s marketing department must be distressed that they cannot use their own benchmark, or any of these six benchmarks in their campaigns. I should investigate Firefox's strategy to compete against Chrome.

Google aced Acid3 as well as its JavaScript benchmark, V8. So, either Google used the benchmark(s) to guide Chrome’s development, or V8 was designed for Chrome, or the good match is an honestly fortuitous intersection. Optimizing the product for certain benchmarks is not only good engineering practice, but good marketing too.

Firefox came in last by a wide margin in the SunSpider (last benchmark in the table above), the oldest JavaScript benchmark. This could mean (I am guessing) Firefox may have some fundamental incompatibility with JavaScript, and/or of the three browsers, Firefox has drifted the furthest from older JavaScript, or other attributes that affect the benchmark such as poor memory management, a very important browser problem. Nevertheless, market share wins over performance against benchmarks. Whatever the benchmark results may be, Firefox is almost twice as widely used as IE and Chrome (statistics from the W3C School).

Jul 6, 2011

Malware are Market Drivers

This 6-page PDF, Ten Myths for Safe Web Browsing sophos-myths-for-safe-web-browsing-wpna.pdf cites data from 2008 about how malware can hitch rides on web page content and browser plug-ins into your computer (or mobile device). I have a few maybe grasping at straws hopes:

1. Browsers have been updated a zillion times since 2008 so might have gotten smarter against malware.
2. Ditto for plugs-ins and extensions such as ActiveX, Flash, Acrobat.
3. With HTML5, maybe plug-ins will be a thing of the past.
4. The software of your browsing platform should have gotten smarter too.
5. Ditto for 'local' security software, cleaning apps and operating systems.

What's this got to do with marketing?

Evil-doers such as malware writers are market drivers. They are getting smarter too so their products create demand for new browsers, operating systems, plug-ins, and (surprise, surprise) demand for new security applications. Software standards like HTML5 help to vitiate vulnerability from plug-ins. No doubt cloud-based security products are enjoying strong growth.

Neglecting the allure of maliciousness for its own sake and the two other motivators of malware (see footnote)*, I believe the commercial disseminators of malware are motivated by advertising and industrial espionage. There is real business value in infecting users' platforms. Malware can commit fraud by re-directing users to click-throughs. Pay Per Click advertisers pay for 'fake' clicks generated by malware. Is it too paranoid to suspect manufacturers of platforms and system software of using malware to build-in obsolescence or to covertly co-market with publishers of security or performance acceleration software?

At the end of this white paper is an ad for Sophos' 'end point security solution.' The fact that the authors point out these ten vulnerabilities ought to signal that their product protects against those malware entry points, but marketing pieces may not always comply with 'the truth, the whole truth...'
*Malware allow evil players to use your computer to do their deeds without your knowledge. Another high-value motivation for malware infection is theft of credentials and/or data.

Mar 11, 2011

Delivering value through co-marketing

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, many people, organizations and companies donated their products and services to help the victims. Tide, a laundry detergent by Proctor & Gamble, sent a truck with washing machines, clean water and Tide detergent to the disaster area to provide clean clothes for victims.  Now there’s no argument that clean clothes are not as critical as food, medicine or shelter, but having clean clothes makes people feel better. And dirty water carries disease so cleanliness is a health benefit. This excerpt from the Tide website summarizes how the program has expanded.

Critics say, why wash clothes rather than give the victims new clothes or clothes with “Tide” emblazoned on all sides? Because that isn’t interesting anymore. Cynics bray, “It’s a crass advertisement!” Of course it is! But it does no harm and delivers value. It is not manipulative to demonstrate how your products or services help users.

One goal of marketing communications is to inform audiences of the value of your products and services in a likeable way that is easily understood and will motivate people to take action.

I suspect Tide struck co-marketing deals with the trucking company and the washing machine maker to create goodwill for the companies.

The Tide "Loads of Hope" truck was built right after Hurricane Katrina, and Tide laundry detergent instantly sent it, outfitted with 32 Affinity washers and dryers provided by Frigidaire, down to New Orleans…

Such advertisements do not hamper others from donating their products or services. Most high technology consumer products are made by a group of vendors ranging from pure intellectual property, to chips, to software. The “Intel Inside” campaign is an example of a formerly no-visibility component manufacturer co-marketing with its systems partners to gain brand awareness.

The biggest challenge in co-marketing is to assemble partners that each bring a clearly differentiable value so that the combined messages from all partners reinforce each other, for example, how Tide and the washing machines work together, how Intel processors and computers work together.

Oct 12, 2010

30 Mistakes that Startups Should Avoid

The adage, “an ounce of prevention…” applies to startup teams, especially first-time ones. They can make mistakes that forever weaken or even kill their ability to succeed. Most mistakes made at the formation of the founding team can be corrected, but those affecting voting rights, equity distribution and ownership rights, can become fatal. Two additional groups of mistakes can also be ‘permanent disabilities’ or ‘mortal wounds’: dealing with investors and operating the company. The VLAB and its sponsor, SNR Denton, presented a panel discussion among a venture capitalist (VC), two well-experienced startup entrepreneurs, and an attorney to discuss 30 mistakes and give advice on ways to avoid them.

A list of 30 mistakes that startups should avoid comprised a handout for the audience. The two VCs on the panel concentrated on mistakes to avoid in forming the startup team and in ways of working with investors. The experienced entrepreneur mostly talked about operations. The attorney focused on mistakes in team formation and in working with investors.

A few counter-intuitive points, especially for first-time startup teams, and my succinct advice:
  • “Recruit friends and family for the founding team” might be the worst decision for the startup. A startup’s seed funds often come from “FFF”, friends, family and fools. They took the biggest risk and had the most faith in the startup. The emotional relationship aside, the entrepreneur literally owes them. They are already ‘on your side,’ are highly motivated, and you already know them so they are easy to recruit. But they may not be the most knowledgeable and experienced people for your business. The relationship that pre-dates the startup may bias any merit-based compensation model.
  • "Money from any source is equally good” is not true. This is where your own attorney who knows the vast and ever-changing array of business terms, and is experienced in negotiating funding terms can save you from being ‘diluted out’ of equity through successive rounds of funding. By the way, one of the mistakes is to take venture money too early and venture funding is the most expensive money that you can accept.
  • “Anticipate the market by introducing the most capable, high featured product with the most disruptive technology as possible” can be fatal. It does seem contradictory that VCs greatly value ‘disruptive technology’ yet discount valuation if you still have R&D to do. The sweet spot is to have products or services whose technology is already proven and paid for, preferably by somebody else, and the market has already been primed by somebody else.
  • “We will hire a fancy attorney when we get bigger” can mean that attorney-come-lately must repair or ameliorate the damage from mistakes you’ve already made. There is truth in the adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The free-flowing, 90-minute discussion touched on many useful morsels such as how to connect with VCs and angels. Dave McClure said ‘you must have had 3 previous interactions with me before I will consider talking to you about your startup.’ Most of the advice was to know the mistakes and avoid them and to exercise good business sense.

Sep 16, 2010

Did you know you needed or wanted "Pinned Shortcuts"?

I used to think of browsers as lightweight utilities whose sole purpose was to ‘deliver’ me to the Internet. I thought that the tasks that improve the quality of user experience such as ease of navigation, clarity of brand,… were the responsibilities of individual websites. I was both right and wrong.

Browsers have the vaunted position of arbitrating the user interface for all websites. The beta release of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer v9 (IE9) seems to reveal that Microsoft has designed-in ways to co-market websites by making their brands more visible and persistent, enabling the ease of repeat visits and to some extent, the stickiness of user-selected websites. It seems that personalization, customization, the ability to make browsers look and act the way you want are the key competitive factors nowadays. One feature that groups some of these benefits is “Pinned Shortcuts.”

Like a lot of new features, the way Pinned Shortcuts work and the value it delivers are a little hard to grasp. Marketing dogma used to say the goal is to give customers what they need and want. Nowadays, features that correctly predict what customers didn’t know they needed or wanted are on the right path to marketing nirvana: customer delight. ZDnet’s Ed Bott gives an explanation and example of Pinned Shortcuts (as part of a 5-page long discussion of IE9).

“The rest of the browser interface remains intact when you use a pinned shortcut. The Favorites and Settings menus are still in their assigned place. You can also open new tabs in the same windows as the pinned site, a feature that initially had me concerned. The point of promoting specific sites is to help those sites stand out, not just to arbitrarily create extra tab groups. But in practice, I’ve found the design useful, even addictive. It didn’t take long for me to begin creating groups of three or four related tabs for a common activity. For example, I have my blog’s home page pinned to the Taskbar, and I usually open Google Analytics and the WordPress dashboard for the site. Keeping those three tabs in a single group makes it easy for me to click the ZDNet icon on my Taskbar and find one of those tasks, which previously were scattered among dozens of open tabs.”

The browser business is crowded, competitive and moving fast. IE9 is not unique in offering such a feature. Mozilla’s Firefox 3.6 update and Firefox 4 beta have similar and same features by other names. Here is a 2010 table that rates ~50 attributes of 10 browsers that was likely done before the release of Chrome and IE9 beta. 

The extremely vibrant and creative browser extensions sector, that really lets the user customize the experience, deserves its own blog post! Stay tuned.