Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

Summary: It hasn't been a good year for Firefox. Mozilla has lost share to Google, it's lost the loyalty of enterprise customers, and it's lost key talent. And a deal with Google that supplied 84% of its revenue last year was scheduled to end in November. Can Firefox avoid a slide into irrelevance?

SHARE:
TOPICS: Browser, Banking, Google
111

It hasn't been a good year for Mozilla and its flagship product, the Firefox browser.

Firefox continues to lose share to Google Chrome. Statistics from Net Market Share show the decline, with Firefox plunging from 25% to 22% and Chrome rising from under 5% to more than 18% during the last two years.

Firefox is now on an accelerated development schedule that has alienated enterprise customers.

One of its key managers, Mike Shaver, left in September. How important was he to the developers? The current version of the Firefox road map still includes a big bold TODO item under the "How to ship faster" heading:

Process change suggestions (w/Shaver)

And the deal with Mozilla's biggest financial backer is in question. A search partnership with Google has historically been Mozilla's greatest source of income. In its most recent financial statement, prepared in August and published recently online (see this PDF copy), the Mozilla Foundation won't even mention Google's name:

The Corporation has a contract with a search engine provider for royalties which expires November 2011. Approximately 84% and 86% of royalty revenue for 2010 and 2009, respectively, was derived from this contract.

In the accompanying FAQ, Mozilla provides a cryptic non-answer to the question:

What is the status of the organization’s search partnerships?

We currently have partnerships with a number of search providers that differ by market. Our largest contract, with Google, comes up for renewal in November. We have every confidence that search partnerships will remain a solid generator of revenue for Mozilla for the foreseeable future.

Back in July, I sent an e-mail to Mozilla PR with a number of questions about the Mozilla-Google financial agreement.

  • The Mozilla-Google search arrangement ends in 2011, according to the most recent public disclosure I was able to find. Is that date accurate?
  • Are Mozilla and Google in discussions to extend that arrangement further, and if so would it be under revised terms?
  • Has Mozilla made contingency plans in the event that Google decides to end or scale back its support?

A Mozilla spokesperson replied with a link to the 2009 financial FAQ, which contained equally vague language: "We believe that search providers will remain a solid generator of revenue for Mozilla for the foreseeable future."

On December 1, I asked Mozilla PR for news on whether the agreement with Google was renegotiated or whether the foundation has any further update to that FAQ. I received a crisp reply:

We currently do not have an update to share.

In 2010, 84% of Mozilla's $123 million in revenue came directly from Google. That's roughly $100 million in funds that will vanish or be drastically cut if the deal is either not renewed or is renegotiated on terms that are less favorable to Mozilla.

When the original three-year partnership deal was signed in 2008, Chrome was still on the drawing boards. Today, it is Google's most prominent software product, and it is rapidly replacing Firefox as the alternative browser on every platform.

Back in March, I suggested that Firefox won't survive:

So where does that leave Firefox? It doesn’t have an app ecosystem or a loyal core of developers. Extensions? Those were worth bragging about in 2005, but in 2012 the story is apps. Businesses and consumers will want to use the same browser that powers their installed apps. In the PC space, that means Google or Microsoft. It doesn’t leave room for a third player.

Mozilla knows this. The last item on its latest roadmap highlights the need to "plan for a future where Desktop, Mobile and Web Apps run on a common platform" and "to design and architect towards this eventual outcome." But the last line notes that "implementation of this is not a priority."

With its biggest source of revenue likely to dry up and a platform that is under attack from Microsoft and Google, how long will it take before Firefox slides into irrelevance?

Related posts:

Topics: Browser, Banking, Google

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

111 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • If you sleep with the enemy, expect to be stabbed in the back

    Google is the enemy. The corporation is your enemy, and my enemy. The sooner you realise, the better.

    Collaborating with the enemy, as Mozilla/Firefox has done for so long, is a potentially fatal mistake.
    Tim Acheson
    • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

      @Tim Acheson

      He says, on his PC or Mac developed by the evil corporation as he answers his iphone developed by the evil corporation as he drive his Chevy Volt also developed by the evil corporation.

      Go build a log cabin in the woods if you don't like business innovation.
      gatormba2003
      • Censorship abatement therapy

        @gatormba2003 The means by which we communicate should not be exclusively owned by for-profit corporations. Business innovation is fine and dandy, but genuine open source technologies are essential to keep the would-be censors at bay.

        Corporations are not evil, any more than sharks are evil. They're just doing what they are designed to do: mercilessly eat everything in sight. Firefox isn't a "cabin in the woods," it's a shark cage.
        doctordawg
      • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

        @gatormba2003

        you're wrong in one respect... his Chevy volt wasn't developed by an evil corporation... it was developed by the government.
        mcmurphy510
    • Been using FF Beta RC version for the past few months.

      If you thought FF8 is fast, FF9 is even better. And I don't even participate in the Aurora channel where FF10 is being developed or the Nightly channel where FF11 is being built into a usable state.

      Mozilla has been working to respond to Chrome's growing share. I don't believe Chrome will be in the "Lead" for very long. Not that it matters anyway. Firefox will never quite be irrelevant, there is always room for OSS which Firefox is.
      ZazieLavender
      • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

        @ZazieLavender

        Actually, I have been using nightly in its beta stage and its not that bad.
        Put it this way, it converted me from IE9 to Firefox. And now I can't even believe that i managed to put up with Microsoft's IE fails for so long. the fact that a beta edition of Firefox is more stable than the actual release of IE9, that says it all.
        mad-doggie
      • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

        @ZazieLavender Isn't Chromium open source?
        paulfx1
    • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

      @Tim Acheson I guess that without Google,Firefox wouldn't have been so succesful.
      anto31
    • RE: If you sleep with the enemy, expect to be stabbed in the back

      @Tim Acheson wrote:
      "Google is the enemy. The corporation is your enemy, and my enemy

      While corporations have way, WAY too much influence with the government, they do create products and services that are useful. And there are lots of choices today. For example, if Google's Chrome browser is not your cup of tea (it does have some useful features), one can choose a derivative browser such as Chromium or SRWare Iron. Or another browser altogether, like Firefox, Opera, IE or Safari. And just remember that there is a Mozilla Corporation too. It's a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation.

      P.S. There will likely be one or more corporations that keep Mozilla going, with or without Google. Perhaps, Microsoft and IBM (if Mozilla gets their act together for enterprise users).
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

      This article is as ridiculous as the "Flash is dead" articles. Mozilla Firefox is still incredibly popular, despite Google Chrome eating away at it's share.

      Firefox supports HTML5 just as well as IE and Chrome does. In other word, future Web Apps will work just as well using it. Yes Firefox will likely become less popular but it won't become irrelevant.

      You can opt-out of Firefox auto-updates. Enterprise doesn't use extensions anyway.
      bradavon
  • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

    Maybe they'll make a deal with Bing next. But would Google really want that?
    gorash0
    • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

      @gorash0 The other question is, "Would Microsoft really want that?" Granted, bing is a potential profit center for Microsoft, while Internet Explorer doesn't seem so, but still, Microsoft isn't building IE just so we can use it to download a better browser, even if that's how I use it.
      P.F. Bruns
    • They already made a deal with Bing

      @gorash0

      But there's no way that anyone will want to pay what Google has been paying for the last three years. It was over $100 million in 2010.

      http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/microsofts-bing-launches-better-firefox-integration-amid-google-mozilla-renewal-talk/61931
      Ed Bott
      • Gates sometimes liked competition -- for example, he did not want Apple to

        @Ed Bott: ... die and even bought $150 million worth of Apple's non-voting (privileged) shares. While this could be coming from from his "love-hate relationships" with Jobs, Gates could sometimes feel the same in more cases than this particular one.<br><br>And though Gates now has (formally) nothing to do with administering Microsoft, this policy might have influence. Ballmer might help Firefox to survive for the sake of keeping competition to Google.
        dderss
      • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

        @Ed Bott

        Are you sure? M$ paid billions over market value for Skype. HP paid at least twice what Palm was worth. 3Par? Corporate bigs are cash rich and common sense poor. It would be sad to see Firefox lose funding. They pay for some $20 million in grants per year. They are a very generous non-profit. I genuinely hope they weather this recent management glitch. I mean seriously, they could probably eke by at this point on $40 million revenue if they stopped buying new furniture and computers, but I hope they don't need to.
        tkejlboom
      • @Ed Bott .. i don't think that's an accurate or a fair assessment

        .. Microsoft would love every chance it can get to increase Bing's market share in the Search space .. at the obvious expense of Google. EDIT: Is that worth $100-150 Million dollars to MS / year? You bet it is! They (MS) can obviously include Microsoft product advertisements to improve their stakes in the exposure game too. <br><br>It's effectively a win-win: Microsoft get to distribute Bing and their product / services advertising and Mozilla keeps the financial life-blood necessary to remain a relevant browser option.<br><br>I wouldn't shoot it down, as ideas go, just yet.
        thx-1138_
      • RE: They already made a deal with Bing

        @Ed Bott wrote:
        "But there's no way that anyone will want to pay what Google has been paying for the last three years. It was over $100 million in 2010.

        Recall Microsoft's recent advertising and search deal with Verizon rumored to have been a $500 million U.S. payment to Verizon for 5 years, which translates to $100 million per year. And Mozilla's Firefox browser market share is currently approx. 20-25% for PCs. This dwarfs Verizon's mobile device market share.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Bing or Google

      @gorash0
      If Google doesn't pay Firefox, Microsoft will be glad to pay a little for greater Bing exposure. Which may again motivate Google to continue after all.
      WebSiteManager
      • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

        "If Firefox added the worst search engine being Bing to its browser that would kill it completely. Bing is horrible and finds absolutley nothing and is so bloated."

        Proof that bloated now has no real meaning.
        Michael Alan Goff
  • RE: Firefox faces uncertain future as Google deal apparently ends

    No uncertain future, Firefox will always be around. You need to go back and think about how Firefox first started. A group took the code from Netscape and cleaned it up to produce phoenix or whatever they called it at the time. There wasn't any financial motivation, just some people wanting to make a clean browser. Mozilla can still do this without the help of Google just like when they first started. As long as people like me are around and use Firefox for its speed and extensions there isn't anything to worry about.
    Loverock Davidson-