Will Google kill Firefox, and will Microsoft save it?

Will Google kill Firefox, and will Microsoft save it?

Summary: Microsoft's Internet Explorer team has kept up its tradition of sending the Mozilla team cake when they ship a new version of Firefox. Firefox 4 has just been made available, and the cake duly arrived with the usual inscription: "Congratulations on shipping!

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Microsoft's Internet Explorer team has kept up its tradition of sending the Mozilla team cake when they ship a new version of Firefox. Firefox 4 has just been made available, and the cake duly arrived with the usual inscription: "Congratulations on shipping! Love, the IE team,"

Several Mozilla team members tweeted the cake's arrival and posted photos. As Mozilla VP Mike Shaver put it: "The @IE team sent us a congratulations cake. Very classy."

This is actually a tradition. The IE team sent a cake when Firefox 2 was released in October 2006. There was another cake for the release of Firefox 3 in June 2008, and in this case, the photo shows Al Billings holding it. (Billings was on the IE team before joining Mozilla.) The IE cake for shipping Firefox 4 looks very similar.

Although the Firefox and IE browsers compete, Microsoft puts enormous efforts into helping commercial companies who are developing for Windows, but it also wants Windows to be a prime platform for running open source software. In 2006, the director of Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab offered Mozilla help and invited them to a four-day workshop in Redmond. He wrote:

"The lab itself is a 4-day event held in Redmond every week through December 2006; we provide secure office space for 4 people, hardware, VPN access, and 1:1 access to product team developers and support staff."

Today, of course, the market has changed completely thanks to the arrival of Google's Chrome browser. This had made rapid gains, and Firefox's growth has gone into reverse. On Net Marketshare figures based on website monitoring, Firefox's market share peaked at 24.72% in November 2009: since then it has dropped 3 percentage points to 21.74% last month. In the same period, Chrome has grown by 7 percentage points, from 3.93% to 10.93%.

But it would be much better for Microsoft if people used Firefox rather than Chrome. First, Google is offering online applications in competition with Microsoft, and Firefox isn't. Second, Google plumbs its online apps into its Android mobile phone operating system, while Firefox doesn't. Third, Google is the world's most powerful advertising company and a threat to Microsoft's online revenues, which Firefox isn't. Finally, Google's plan for total world domination includes replacing Microsoft Windows with Chrome OS.

But one of life's fun-filled facts is that Mozilla is financially dependent on Google. It collects tens of millions of dollars in return for setting Google as the default search engine on Firefox -- certainly the bulk (around 86%) of the $104 million it says it collected in calendar 2009.

This deal continues until November 2011, and there's bound to be speculation about what will happen after that. Google could save itself up to $100 million a year and perhaps wipe out Firefox as we know it simply by not renewing the deal. Would that be evil?

I suspect Google won't do that because it would give Microsoft the opportunity to step in with a search deal for Bing. Being Firefox's salvation would earn Microsoft $100-million worth of PR and make Google look bad.

Ed Bott at ZD Net in the US has just cast doubt on Firefox's survival in a post headlined: Why Internet Explorer will survive and Firefox won't. His thesis is that Microsoft can match the rate at which Google ships Chrome updates and Firefox can't (though he omits the point that Google more or less enforces browser updates while Microsoft can't even get people off the decade old IE6).

Either way, Apple really wants to see Firefox killed (Steve Jobs certainly implied as much), and Google would benefit massively from Firefox's demise. Microsoft is probably the only one that might, on balance, want to keep it alive…..

@jackschofield

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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10 comments
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  • Well, Jack, if Google do kill off Firefox (and, sadly, it'll make economic sense), it'll be a cold day in hell before I use Chrome, or its blue brother, IE9. It's Opera for me.
    rongraves-8d0a6
  • There's bound to be some Firefox users who switch to Chrome but I think Firefox has a critical mass of users that will stick with it (unless Mozilla cock-up monumentally). As long as it has this user-base it can make deals even if they might not be as lucrative as the current deal with Google. However, I can't see Google not renewing the deal. Why would they not want to be default search engine on a browser used by millions every day?

    P.S. Typo in the article: "But one of life's fun-filled facts is that Mozilla is that it's financially dependent on Google." :-)
    authentictech
  • >> [Microsoft] wants Windows to be a prime platform for running open source software

    Are you kidding?

    Microsoft absolutely *detests* open source software and would wipe it from the face of the Earth in an instant if it could. Just look at the bogus patent suits that they've brought against Android only this week.
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • Oh Jack, I fear you're coming under the influence of your own reality distortion field:

    "...but it [Microsoft] also wants Windows to be a prime platform for running open source software."

    Yeah, Microsoft just loves it some open source. I guess that's why Chairman Bill was busy writing cheques to keep SCO afloat while it tilted at windmills, and why Uncle Fester thinks open source is Communist and un-American.

    There's absolutely no business sense for MS to want Firefox to survive - except to possibly stave off another anti-trust suit. Maybe that's why the send the cake: "Look Neelie, MS and Firefox, we're BFFs. We sent cake, dammit!"

    I'm no fan of the beady sandal wearers and their cries of "freedom", but I'm also no fan of your muddle-headed thinking, which I guess the Guardian finally got tired of when they turfed you out.
    AvailableUser
  • "one of life's fun-filled facts is that Mozilla is that it's financially dependent on Google"

    Gee, I sure hope that the sugar daddy doesn't pull the plug or Mozilla will have to whore itself out to someone else.
    ( http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=sarcasm )
    Ken Saunders
  • This post will been removed by a moderator

    By the way, your writing skills rock.
    "...fun-filled facts is that Mozilla is that it's "

    You're an inspiration to all who strive for mediocrity.
    Ken Saunders
  • There's bound to be some shift between Firefox an Chrome but unless Mozilla really messes up I can't see a big shift of Firefox users leaving - it has quite a strong and devoted community built up around it - nor can I see Google giving up on having millions of people using Google as their default search engine, no matter how popular Chrome gets.

    If Google does withdraw support Mozilla can always go cap-in-hand elsewhere to other search engines (though it may not be as lucrative).
    authentictech
  • @BrownieBoy

    > Microsoft absolutely *detests* open source software and would wipe it
    > from the face of the Earth in an instant if it could. Just look at the bogus
    > patent suits that they've brought against Android only this week.

    Microsoft loves software, it loves software developers, and it wants all software to be available for Windows. It also writes open source software and has its own open source licences. Patent suits have nothing to do with it.

    @Ken Saunders
    Thanks for the correction.

    @AvailableUser
    I do feel sorry for you, if that helps.

    > the Guardian finally got tired of when they turfed you out.

    You clearly don't know the facts, but you shouldn't make up lies, especially if you could be accused of malice. Like very many other people, including some close colleagues, I applied for a very generous voluntary redundancy package based on 25 years service. And I still write for the Guardian.
    Jack Schofield
  • If you phrase it as 'Microsoft loves selling Windows licences and wants to be able to sell them to people who want to run open source software' it makes plenty of sense; with Windows powering the vast majority of non-smartphone personal computers, it's a huge platform for open source developers and Microsoft wants to keep it that way - no schizophrenia required.
    M
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • Google is fundamentally an advertising company heavily IT orientated. It is in it's interest to keep someone like Firefox strong, managerially independent, innovating, and Open Sourced. Why? Because for only $100 million Google retains a large part of the Firefox customer base as their search engine customers (and keeps them away from their rivals in that field). Innovations within/related to the Open Sourced Firefox can positively effect Google's own developments within their own IT projects. Also having a large independent browser out there, means that if a customer isn't using your stuff, at least he may not be using your commercial competitors product.
    Grant B