The foundation made US$5.8 million in 2004 and is thought to have made tens of millions of dollars last year, predominantly from partnerships with search companies, such as Google and Yahoo. Though much of its money has gone toward increasing its head count, some has been used to bulk up its reserve fund.
Mitchell Baker, the chief executive of the Mozilla Corporation, the commercial subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, said Mozilla plans to put some of its excess revenues back into the community.
"The Mozilla Group -- the foundation and the corporation -- has a set of employees that provide a critical mass where things can happen, but it is only a piece of the project. There are vast numbers of things that happen outside our employee base," she said. "We have a commitment that while we have funds beyond our operating levels, some of it should to go to community members. We want to do that in a way that promotes the community."
Baker said she doesn't yet have a date for when this will happen but is currently working on a model for how the funds will be distributed and hopes Mozilla will be able to start pouring money into the community "soon." The Mozilla community will also be given a chance to comment on the model, according to Baker.
"There's not a model in the open-source community that we can point to and copy," she said. "We have contributors spread around the world doing a range of different things and we need to work out what would make sense for them. We don't want to set up a model, have a big PR event about it, disperse the money and then find out it has no effect or gets to the wrong people."
Though a number of open-source projects, such as JBoss and MySQL, have used their revenues to hire contributors, it is relatively unusual that money is put straight back into the community, according to Rishab Ghosh, the program leader of an EU-funded open-source research project at Dutch research institute MERIT.
"Mozilla is somewhat unusual among open-source projects because it has a product with a very high end-user visibility, and the foundation earns revenues that are substantial. In most other open-source projects, it is individual contributors (including companies) who earn revenues, and developers earn money through consultancy or employment. So it's great that the Mozilla Foundation is considering funding particular individuals," said Ghosh in an e-mail.
Though Baker said she had been warned that distributing funds could "distort" its volunteer community, Ghosh claimed this risk could be mitigated by distributing funds according to measurable criteria.
"Such funding can be tricky unless it is based on objective criteria -- luckily there are several metrics that are easily and publicly available, such as the number of lines of code contributed by a given person," he said.
ZDNet UK's Ingrid Marson reported from London. For more coverage from ZDNet UK, click here.