Mozilla’s Relationship with Google “Complicated”

By Josh Catone
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It’d be wrong to say that the relationship between Google and Mozilla is in dire straits since the release of Google’s Chrome browser, but certainly, things have become more strained. When Google announced Chrome in September, just a week after re-upping their contract with Mozilla through 2011, we wondered why Google would “start from scratch with their own offering rather than just put more effort into supporting Mozilla.”

They key, of course, is control. Chrome, as we have discussed in recent posts, is an important part of their 3-pronged Web OS strategy. Along with Gears (offline data store) and Native Client (local CPU resources for web apps), Chrome gives Google a compelling platform for the delivery of web applications. It makes sense that Google, who is in the business of selling web applications, would want to control that entire experience.

However, it is potentially coming at the expense of their relationship with Mozilla. We’ve guessed that once extensions arrive on Chrome, Firefox will likely suffer at least a minor blow in terms of user adoption, as more than a few early adopters will be inclined to switch. And just over a week ago, Google dropped Firefox in the Google Pack in favor of Chrome.

Mozilla CEO John Lilly told ComputerWorld in an interview that his organization’s relationship with Google has been at least a little bit strained since the release of Chrome.

“We have a fine and reasonable relationship,” Lilly said. “But I’d be lying if I said that things weren’t more complicated than they used to be.”

The vast majority of Mozilla’s revenue — 88%, or about $60 million/year — comes from its search advertising deal with Google. It’s unlikely that Google would walk away from that, but now that Google has become a competitor, Mozilla isn’t counting on that revenue stream being there forever.

“Our goal is to be an advocate for the Web for 50 or even 100 years, and you can’t depend on any one organization,” Lilly told ComputerWorld. “Our [current] three-year agreement is the longest we’ve ever had. This is a longtime horizon, so we don’t have to do anything super soon. But in the next three years, we can continue to build [new] products and develop [new] revenue streams.”

Of course, that’s also smart business. Clearly, though, Google and Mozilla aren’t quite as close since Google decided to become a direct competitor to the world’s #2 browser maker. Lilly told ComputerWorld that Mozilla plans to collaborate and work with Google, but they also plan to compete. In the end, that’s a very good thing for users, as long as Mozilla stays afloat.

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  • AppBeacon

    I personally prefer Chrome over FF. It just looks cleaner and more vibrant to me. However, I use FF more because of web development. I must admit that if some choice extensions became available for Chrome, I’d consider switching at work. If Google FINALLY released a Mac version, I would almost certainly switch over.

    As I mentioned over on oStatic for a similar post, FF is not doomed if Google drops their relationship. They still have Yahoo (maybe) and Microsoft to sell their default search position to.

  • TheNewBoss

    Oh Google is so good – I just want to do business with them.

  • randywehrs

    The only thing that would get me to switch from FF to Chrome would be if there were as many add-ons and user-generated tweaks/tools, etc. FF is so adaptable that I’d have a hard time switching to a browser with less/limited customizing options.

  • Chrome is near featureless, and FF is getting bloated and has worse memory related crashes than ever (on my system). FF is still better.

  • Forsakenfx

    Unless I’m checking sites for bugs on all browsers, I won’t touch FF anymore… I can leave Opera open for a month, and have less memory usage than some quick browsing with FF, and thats visiting high resource sites (Flash intensive).

    Basically, as soon as FF got such notoriety, it went down hill from there, and thats about the same time I stopped bothering with the browser all together.

  • honeymonster

    Google Chrome uses (at least on Vista) the same process integrity feature as IE (where it’s called “protected mode”). That feature (allowing a process to run with intrinsically limited privileges while still preserving the identity) is a very successful in-depth defense feature. Even if the browser or a plug-in is vulnerable an attacker is very restricted in what he can accomplish on the host system.

    For that reason alone I consider Chrome a much safer browser than Firefox, even if Chrome was marred with several vulnerabilities right after the launch of the beta. Firefox is still the browser with the most vulnerabilities according to Secunia.

    The threat of Google not renewing – or severely cutting back on – their contract with Mozilla will raise enough uncertainty about the future of Firefox to make it very difficult for enterprises to center strategically on Firefox. This doesn’t mean too much for everyday browsing as that is firmly covered by web standards. But Mozilla is going to have a hard time convincing customers to take up fringe projects such as Prism, Sunbird, Thunderbird, Ubiquity, Weave and not least XUL.

    Basically Google finds themselves in a situation where they fund some 85%+ of Mozilla. If they pulled the funding Mozilla would have to scale back significantly and it would immediately raise questions about their ability to advance Firefox like they have for the last years.

    It is important for Google to be the default search provider in a browser with 20%+ penetration. But if that should drop to 15% or even 10% because of Chrome, they could easily convince most of the remaining users to switch by simply pulling the funding.

    If Mozilla cannot find other sources of revenues (I consider a search deal with MS out of the question?), they are toast.

  • parmsisback

    FF is still better BUT it seems like the makers of FF have got complacent. The software has become bloated, memmory issues and takes long to load the first time you load it.

    Chrome is what FF was like 3+ years ago. fresh, streamlined, fast, elegant for the time.

    In the end many people will move away from FF due to its inadequasies.

    FF4 has to really rock or it will be the last major FF release that people will really care about.

  • honeymonster

    Being almost entirely dependent on a deal with a single partner is not good for any business, profit or non-profit.

    When that deal centers around a single constellation – default search in a single product – it is even worse.

    When the “partner” launches a product which is a direct competitor to your flagship product – the uptake of which is at the center of the deal – it is indeed a precarious situation.

    Mozilla needs to move quickly to ensure other sources of revenue. While Google renewed the deal for 3 years, more than a half of a year has already passed. If Chrome establishes itself as a credible alternative and we get to within 1 year of the end of that deal without Mozilla having secured alternative funding, the uncertainty about FFs future alone will cause some customers to look at the obvious alternative. Also, if they do not succeed in securing funding they have to make arrangements to lay off employees. Presumably several of them have contractual claims on severances which means that they cannot simply let the 3 years run out before taking action.

    So even though 3 years seemed like a long time, Mozilla has much less time than that before the effect of lack of funding will set in. If Google decides to pull the funding.

  • angusgrant

    Hi well I still will use FF until Chrome et al… sorts out there security flaws.

  • MauiMan2

    All I can say is that I just sit back and watch as Google becomes too big for its britches and the general public allows it to happen. Then they complain about Google getting too big but don’t do anything about it.

  • Jim Guardian

    “who is in the business of selling web applications”

    that’s a good one, I thought all along they were in the Advertising business, they pretty much own every piece of ad out there, including’s, Yahoo’s and every other website out there.

  • @Jim: Selling web applications is one of the businesses that Google is actively pursuing. You’re right to point out that it is far from their largest or most profitable business. It is a business they are in, however, and clearly one they are serious about pursuing aggressively.

  • Jason

    Google = search = advertising

    Google is an advertising company and will always be an advertising company despite any efforts to monetize other products or services (yes, including green tech initiatives).

    All web app / tool development is to enable further distribution / consumption of their ad products.

  • vincpa

    I don’t see what the big deal is with Chrome. I understand a lot of people use it because using Google makes them the cool kids on the block, but look at it in terms of innovation.

    Opera invented tabbed browsing and mouse gestures for browsing as well as speed dial which Google ripped off. Searching from the address bar came from FF first.

    Theres also that other cool feature people rave about with Chrome is each tab has its own OS process even though IE8beta came out with that months because Chrome was released.

    People who rave about Chrome don’t know much about software, they are just average users who are into the latest craze, period!

  • James Harmison

    I think selling web applications is one of the businesses that Google is actively pursuing.Google is a good search engine of other.

  • MauiMan2

    Searching from the address bar came from FF first.

    It actually started with Netscape several years before Firefox came along.

  • 46Bit

    The main reason I dislike FF is because they were silly enough to make the default Vista skin look even worse than IE7! I mean – dull blue and a white stripe! Bearing in mind the old one was pretty nice (not as nice as the custom ones, but bearable easily), it’s mad.