Mozilla vs. Apple on Safari flap: It's about the Google search box

Mozilla vs. Apple on Safari flap: It's about the Google search box

Summary: Updated: Apple pushes Safari to you when you update iTunes. Mozilla CEO John Lilly blasted the move.

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Updated: Apple pushes Safari to you when you update iTunes. Mozilla CEO John Lilly blasted the move. Meanwhile, there's enough hubbub to last a few weeks over these dueling point of views. But what this spat really comes down to is Google and the fees it pays to be the lead search dog within browsers.

A few quick thoughts:

  • The fact Apple is pushing Safari via its iTunes updates isn't surprising. In fact, Apple told you that this was going to be its move with Safari for Windows. In this respect, Apple is no different than any other software vendor that always tries to push you a bundle. Nefarious? Hardly. It's just Apple trying to grab more share. Ultimately, you are responsible for what you install.
  • So why the Mozilla hubbub? Firefox has more than a third of the browser market. If Apple leverages iTunes and the software update bundle Safari could grab more market share. Lilly writes in his blog post: "What Apple is doing now with their Apple Software Update on Windows is wrong. It undermines the trust relationship great companies have with their customers, and that’s bad — not just for Apple, but for the security of the whole Web."

What's stunning to me is that after three days of debate about this issue there aren't many folks who have mentioned that little search box in the right corner. Let's be clear: Google bankrolls Mozilla and accounts for most of its revenue. Google pays to be the leading provider in the Firefox search box. Sure, you can pick other search engines, but few do. As a result, Google accounted for 85 percent of Mozilla's 2006 revenue of $66.8 million. The more market share Firefox has the more Google pays to be top search dog.

In that context, it's pretty clear (to me) what this Mozilla vs. Apple rift is about. Apple also has Google in its search box and while details aren't disclosed it's safe to say there's some cash changing hands. Google's fees to Apple aren't likely to be material, but Safari's market share gains at Firefox's expense could be a headache for Mozilla.

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Let's say Safari grabs 10 percent market share and Firefox falls to about 25 percent. Note: Firefox's market share about 16 percent, according to Janco. The aforementioned figures are for illustration purposes. That's fewer searches and less revenue for Mozilla. Sure, you can argue about whether Apple's Safari move is above the board. You can also question the security implications and a bevy of other issues. But in the end, Apple's Safari update and Mozilla's reaction is like any other story. To truly understand it you have to follow the money.

Update: John Lilly has a follow-up post to his first missive on Safari and Apple's distribution methods. His point: There's no subtext in his first post. Lilly has some good points--especially on security--but I still maintain that to understand the nuances of this spat you have to at least consider the monetary angle.

Update 2: Lilly and I have been volleying a few emails and on further review I may be coming off too strong regarding the money aspect. I still maintain it's a factor though. Here's what Lilly had to say:

I think it's appropriate to talk about motivations in analysis, and you're right that there are often monetary reasons for doing things. But at Mozilla we routinely make decisions without regard to revenue impact -- we really do try to make decisions based on user experience first and foremost. I feel like your post doesn't just bring up the point, but you assume (and assert) monetary motivations -- just look at your headline or this line: "But what this spat really comes down to is Google and the fees it pays to be the lead search dog within browsers."

It's fine for you to think that, or write it, but it isn't true. Not everything is about money -- most things aren't. We've set things up here so that we need a relatively modest budget (by IT industry standards) to survive and to make an impact in the world -- and not being beholden to shareholders means that we don't have to maximize revenue or profits.

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Browser, Google, Hardware, Mobility

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110 comments
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  • Nefarious? Yes indeed

    I think your view is rather narrow sighted - there are more things to be concerned here than just money, and trying to make Mozilla look bad just because they do get some amount of money from having a Google search box, when it likely doesn't have anything or very little to do with the situation, is a bit over the top.

    The opinion given here seems to be particularly biased towards Apple. The article completely misses out the bigger side to the debate

    "In this respect, Apple is no different than any other software vendor that always tries to push you a bundle. Nefarious? Hardly."

    I would beg to differ - bundling often happens in installers, but NOT with updates. Updating should be updating what you have already, not trying to give you new stuff and particularly not trying to give it to you by default. As mozilla has argued, this degrades the trust people have in updating software.

    Plus, if you turn it down, guess what happens? Everytime there's an update, it tries to throw it back at you - much worse than any other bundling that happens.

    Furthermore, most bundling that does happen is malware and adware - surely Apple is above this? Apparently not, seeing as they are taking it further than most malware - people are already getting Safari on their computers when they dont want it and having to have it removed and not knowing how it got there.

    And it's not just Safari. Install just Quicktime, and in the next update, Apple try to throw you an iTunes and Safari you don't want. Turn them down, and they give it to you again.

    I would say that this is very much nefarious and bad practice, and they are trying to abuse their position with itunes to shoehorn safari on users that may not fully understand what is going on, or who are so used to the update box they just press yes, trusting (obviously a mistake) apple.
    Kaleld
    • This is different in what way?

      Many other do it.
      Why shout at just Apple?
      Mikael_z
      • Because others do it, it makes Apple okay?

        1. The problem is that you all say that Apple is [b]better[b]. Apple isn't better.

        2. Who says that Apple is being unfairly picked out? Real gets attacked for this too.

        3. There is also the monopoly aspect. Apple has a monopoly in media players (sure there are alternatives but there have also been alternatives to Windows, didn't stop Windows being called a monopoly). This is [b]clearly[/b] a company leveraging its monopoly in media players to muscle in to a market where Apple has a [b]pathetic[/b] marketshare. I'm hoping the DoJ and the EU investigate this quickly because Apple [b]must play by different rules[/b].
        NonZealot
        • Abusive or not?

          The question is
          1. if Apple has a monopoly in the music biz
          and
          2. if Apple has abused any antitrust laws.

          I think it'll be difficult to prove Apple guilty because it's
          about bundling software which everybody else do, not
          about e.g. deals excluding competing software or CPU-
          taxes like Microsoft has done in the past.

          Compare pears with pears here.
          Mikael_z
          • Bzzt, try again to defend the hive!!

            [i]1. if Apple has a monopoly in the music biz
            and[/i]

            Nope, the market can be defined as narrowly as the investigator wants. MS was not found to have a monopoly in the OS biz, it was found to have a monopoly in the "x86 compatible OS currently being sold to OEMs who then resell it on computers destined for the personal computer market". How else could the DoJ ignore Apple, HP/UX, Solaris, NeXT, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

            [i]if Apple has abused any antitrust laws.[/i]

            Norway agrees with me and last year found that Apple was abusing anti-trust laws through its abusive use of iTunes DRM.
            NonZealot
          • Not to different from the Windows Media DRM<NT>

            <NT>
            Intellihence
          • But Apple has a monopoly

            so Apple has to play by different rules. Hey, take it up with Norway. They only charged Apple for breaking anti-trust regulations, not Microsoft. :)
            NonZealot
          • Very Different

            Windows Media DRM can be licensed for use by multitude of MP3 players. iTunes DRM ties you into buying an iPod.
            gtg781w
          • You're wrong again, as usual...

            You're wrong again, as usual. It is not illegal to be
            monopoly.

            Someone can sell leashes for humming birds and be the
            only company in the entire world that sells leashes for
            humming birds, that doesn't mean it's illegal just because
            they hold a monopoly on humming bird leashes.

            Microsoft was found guilty of abusing their position as a
            monopoly to leverage their web browser onto consumers
            via integrating it into their OS. This is a far cry from an
            opt-out browser install through iTunes.

            As for the DRM, it was a requirement by the [i]record
            labels[/i], not Apple. Apple has since removed the DRM
            from portions of its music library [i]as permitted by the
            music corporations.[/i]
            olePigeon
        • I don't know if you are aware of this ZEALOT ,,,

          but this is the kind of action the EU wants many companies to take . Why you ask ? The EU wants Microsoft to lose market share , no matter what happens .

          Cheers big ears ,,,
          Intellihence
          • That's not what they want

            The EU is all about "EU Companies" gaining Market share, not another American company.

            Say Windows drops 5 percent, and Apple rises the same amount, how does that help market share wise to a EU based company?

            It doesn't. That is why things like this will get looked into from the EU in the near future.
            John Zern
        • Monopoly?

          You seem to forget that in the DoJ trial, the [b]only[/b]
          finding sent back by the court of appeal was the bundling
          issue. They essentially said it was OK, so what's your point?
          Fred Fredrickson
      • Missing the point

        This is being pushed as part of an UPDATE. And if the user declines it, it keeps getting pushed OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER....

        Other software, like Google or Yahoo Toolbars, get pushed during FRESH INSTALLS of certain software. And even though in these circumstances I only have to decline it ONCE, it is a practice I despise as well.

        So now, even if you're the most die-hard Apple fan, don't be a blind moron and use the "other people are doing it so why can't Apple" defense. It's not a good reason. In fact, if I were an Apple fan because it's so nice to its users, this would show me how much Apple is not unlike all the other unethical jackass companies that do this kind of crap.
        tikigawd
    • Unless, of course,

      you check the box that says ignore updates.

      You should stand in front of a wind farm. You could power a
      small town.
      frgough
      • re: Unless, of course,

        frgough:

        "you check the box that says ignore updates."

        Okay, let me get this straight: In order to avoid seeing the update that wants to push Safari 3.X onto your computer, you should check "ignore updates".

        Doesn't that mean you won't be shown updates for QT or iTunes, as well?

        Don't get me wrong--I don't use iTunes, and I avoid QT as much as possible. I don't use iTunes because, to paraphrase something someone recently said, "it has as many holes in it as Amy Winehouse's arm."

        But if I [b]did[/b] use iTunes, ignoring the sporadic updates and fixes that Apple issues for it would be a rather stupid move, don't you think?

        "You should stand in front of a wind farm. You could power a small town."

        Heed your own words, bubba.
        M.R. Kennedy
        • Easier than that, and not all inclusive

          Two ways to do it: highlight the "offending 'update'", then
          either go to the menu bar and select "ignore" or, get this,
          simply use your delete key. I know this is HIGHLY
          UNINTUITIVE for users trained in the Microsoft Way, but
          there it is.

          As to the larger issue, I think Apple could have handled
          this better (see daringfireball.com for a discussion on this
          very topic), but the outrage over this is so over the top
          and out of proportion to the controversy, that I completely
          agree with this article. There are lots of hidden agendas in
          the criticism, whether it's a matter of Google referrer fees
          or attempts to garner page hits and advertising revenue.

          There are plenty of valid criticisms of Apple, but this isn't
          one of them. This is in the realm of people too lazy to do
          the work required to take on the difficult issues.
          Marcos El Malo
          • re: Easier than that

            [i]There are plenty of valid criticisms of Apple, but this isn't one of them.[/i]

            I disagree. It is a valid criticism. The volume of complaints about it [i]may[/i] be over the top, but it doesn't negate the validity.

            The problem is that while most readers of the blogs on ZDNet should know to look for ways to remove the installation of Safari in the Apple update applet, they shouldn't have to. It is not an update. It's a new installation of a program.

            Also, most users don't know where to look to delete the update. They know Apple has sent them an update (usually combined with QT or iTunes) that they might want, and the Safari installation is added on there as well. So they click install.

            Sorry, but the criticism is very valid.
            Badgered
          • Fair point

            You make a good point. The counter-point I would make
            is that the issue is not really that Apple is pushing Safari
            via update, but HOW they're doing it.

            If the update box was unchecked by default, would it
            bother you? What if there was a separate section in the
            updater that made it clear that Safari was a completely new
            app?

            So, you've managed to get me to lean towards your
            argument a bit. Apple did screw up a bit, at least as far as
            execution, and I can understand how this would be
            misleading. However, I don't think Apple was trying to trick
            anyone. Despite their reputation, I think this was just a UI
            screw up on Apple's part.
            Marcos El Malo
          • re: Fair point

            [i]The counter-point I would make is that the issue is not really that Apple is pushing Safari via update, but HOW they're doing it.[/i]

            I can agree with you on that.

            [i]If the update box was unchecked by default, would it bother you?[/i]

            Probably not. To be quite honest, I would probably have looked right past it. Though I still feel as though it doesn't belong in an Update application.

            [i]However, I don't think Apple was trying to trick
            anyone.[/i]

            I'm not so sure about that. I think they want a better share of the browser market and it was probably done on purpose. I feel the way they went about it was a mistake.
            Badgered
          • "HIGHLY UNINTUITIVE for users trained in the Microsoft Way"

            And since we're talking about software being run in Windows (the Microsoft way), I guess it would be "HIGHLY UNINTUITIVE". Would you be so condescending toward Mac users if a setting for a Microsoft program for the Mac OS was easily changed by going to Run command?
            To paraphrase, "I know this is HIGHLY
            UNINTUITIVE for users trained in the Mac Way, but there it is."
            rob07601