The browser wars matter, tech investors.

They matter because the browser is the gateway to cloud computing; it's where an increasing amount of applications processing is taking place through technologies like JavaScript. Firefox used to be good at this, but lately, old red has been showing its age.

A surprising switch
Yesterday, the Mozilla Foundation, which governs the development and upkeep of Firefox, patched five known flaws in older versions of its browser. Three of the flaws were deemed critical, Computerworld reports. The newest edition of Firefox, 3.6, didn't suffer from these issues.

And yet I didn't upgrade. Plug-ins I had come to depend on weren't ready for Firefox 3.6 when I first thought about moving to the new browser edition earlier this month. Around the same time, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) unveiled an upgraded beta version of its Chrome browser for Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) Mac OS X.

Two hours of testing later, I switched to Chrome as my default browser, and I'm not going back.

This wasn't planned. Not entirely, anyway. I'd been holding onto Firefox because I've found it to be more stable than the youthful Chrome and fast enough to perform most Web duties satisfactorily. No longer.

The new edition of Chrome for the Mac is not only faster than my edition of Firefox, but it needed no plug-ins to handle my tricked-out versions of Gmail and Google Calendar.

Grinding gears
More broadly, Firefox's advantage is also its issue. Developers have been happy to treat the browser as its own platform, where plug-ins had become like software applications.

Now, much of this same functionality -- software and services that have allowed Firefox to gradually steal market share from Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Internet Explorer -- is making its way into the new HTML5 Web standard, which is designed to make Web-accessible software as feature-rich as any desktop equivalent. Chrome is adopting HTML5 natively.

That has ramifications. Last week, Google said in a blog post that would it stop development on a key plug-in called Gears, which is functionally similar to Adobe's (Nasdaq: ADBE) AIR in that it allows me to work with some Web-driven applications while disconnected. Why the change? HTML5.

A stiff-arm from Mr. Softy
If Microsoft has been slow to adopt HTML5, it's because the standard makes a browser more like an OS. That's good for Google, which plans an OS based on the Chrome browser, and bad for Mr. Softy, which only now is getting its mojo back with Windows 7.

Firefox is stuck in between. On the one hand, it's been the platform, the browser that demonstrated just how powerful Web-based computing could be. On the other, it's now the old boy. A standard-bearer giving away to a technical standard.

This isn't the end for Firefox, of course. If anything, the cloud-computing era means more, not less, opportunity for creative, functional browsers such as Firefox. But HTML5 support is likely to be the key. With Chrome, Google is moving faster than most.

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