Firefox Exec: Bundling? No Thanks

Josh Catone
Josh Catone

Internet Explorer’s web browser dominance is a direct result of being bundled with Windows. That, at least, is the charge Opera brought to the European Union, and one that the EU has decided it agrees with — it recently ruled that Microsoft abused its monopoly position in the operating system market by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows.

One of the proposed solutions apparently being considered by the EU is to force Microsoft to start bundling alternative browsers as well — Opera, Safari, Firefox — and allowing users to choose which browser they want to use when the OS is installed. That, says Firefox developer Mike Connor, is just a bad idea.

“My personal view is that it’s not the right outcome,” he told PC Pro Magazine. “The choice [when installing Windows] would be weird. There’s no good UI for that.”

Connor, who leads the Firefox development team at Mozilla, also thinks Opera’s assertion that bundling equates to market share is bogus. Connor said that the claim was now “provably false,” alluding to the fact that Firefox is above 20% share of the market and growing steadily without the benefits of bundling. Firefox does, of course, enjoy the financial backing of Google — a relationship that has recently become more complicated since Google released a competing web browser product.

Of course, Connor indicates that the release of Google’s Chrome browser was probably welcomed around the Mozilla offices. In the same interview with PC Pro, he also mentioned that Firefox is worried about becoming a monopoly. “We are kind of worried about the monopoly thing,” he said. “We don’t want to kill everybody else.”

Firefox has a long way to go to become a monopoly, but they currently appear to have a head of steam and have recently captured 20% of the browser market. Meanwhile, IE’s growth has been steadily declining. Among early adopters and enthusiast users, Firefox has a much larger following. At SitePoint, for example, over 50% of our visitors use Firefox. The addition of a viable competitor from Google to join Opera and Apple’s Safari is likely a welcome occurrence for a Firefox team worried about monopolizing the browser market.

Connor says he would rather rely on organic growth than bundling to spread Firefox’s influence. “As people become aware there’s an alternative, you don’t end up in that [monopoly] situation. You have to be perceptibly better [than Internet Explorer],” he said. For that reason, Firefox will also never likely be a monopoly — awareness about the unprecedented level of consumer choice in today’s web browser market should keep any one browser from reaching 2/3rds of the market. “Eventually people will use different browsers based on their own specific preferences,” according to Connor.

Update: Mozilla Chairperson Mitchell Baker, in a post on her blog, somewhat contradicts Connor’s notion that bundling isn’t equatable to market share. “I’ve been involved in building and shipping web browsers continuously since before Microsoft started developing IE, and the damage Microsoft has done to competition, innovation, and the pace of the web development itself is both glaring and ongoing. There are separate questions of whether there is a good remedy, and what that remedy might be. But questions regarding an appropriate remedy do not change the essential fact. Microsoft’s business practices have fundamentally diminished (in fact, came very close to eliminating) competition, choice and innovation in how people access the Internet,” she writes.

She goes on to say that Microsoft’s actions are “still benefiting Microsoft in ways that reduce competition, choice and innovation.” Nor, says Baker, does Mozilla’s small success indicate a market of healthy competitors.

What Baker says doesn’t necessarily contradict what Connor was saying — Connor didn’t actually come out and say that bundling had nothing to do with IE becoming the behemoth it is today, nor did he say that bundling wasn’t a bad thing for the marketplace. Rather, Connor said that bundling alternative browsers wouldn’t automatically boost the market share of those browsers and that bundling and market share aren’t perfectly related.

That said, it appears that not everyone at Mozilla is on the same page.