Darth "Ballmer" Vader: "Give yourself to the Dark Side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong." Yoda "RMS": "Beware. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." Vader: "Come To The Dark Side! We Have Cookies!"
No! Wait! That isn't how it went! Well, I hope not anyway!
Still, in a move that was as unthinkable as Bill Gates using an iPhone, or Linus Torvalds announcing MS-Linux, Mozilla, the company and non-profit open-source group behind the Firefox Web browser has gone over to the dark side... I mean partnered up with Microsoft to release a special version of Firefox with Bing as its default search engine.
Why would Luke, I mean Mozilla, do such a thing? Well, probably because they need the money. For many years, Mozilla's chief source of revenue has been Google. Every time you would use the Web browser's built-in search window, Mozilla would get a tiny payment. It wasn't much, but hundreds of millions of searches a week add up. That Firefox search box is believed to account for anywhere from 85 percent to 90 percent of Mozilla revenue.
It hasn't been adding up to much lately. While Mozilla's total revenue and support for 2010 was up to $123.2 million, the net income year was down by almost 20%.
At the same time, Google now has its own Web browser, Chrome. In case you haven't been keeping track, Chrome is rapidly overtaking Firefox as the number two Web browser in the world. Much of that growth has come at Firefox's expense. Giving Mozilla even more reason to worry, it's search revenue sharing deal with Google is due for renewal in November... if Google chooses to renew it.
Besides losing browser market-share and facing trouble with their single most important partner, Mozilla, faced the challenge of porting its browser to Android and iOS devices and improving Firefox on a hyper-accelerated release schedule. Firefox's reputation as being a great browser has been tarnished. Mozilla has been looking into fund-raising, but seriously how much money can they expect from begging?
The answer seems to be not enough since Tor Steiner of Microsoft's Bing team announced that since users had been asking for easier access to the Bing search engine--No, seriously he said that!--Microsoft had teamed "with Mozilla to release Firefox with Bing, a version of the popular Web browser that includes default search settings for Bing. Now Firefox users who are Bing enthusiasts can use Firefox with Bing to use the Web the way they want without having to take extra steps to navigate or customize their settings to Bing." You can also download the Bing Search for Firefox Add-on.
In both cases, what you'll get is Firefox 7.01 set with Bing as your homepage and default search engine. Of course, you could set it up that way by yourself. It would take--I just did it--twenty seconds. Still, you can now get "official" Evil Empire Firefox.
What Microsoft gets out of it--besides tempting Mozilla over to the dark side--is a chance to try to get more people to use Bing. Since Bing's chunk of the search market has been declining recently to Google and Bing and Microsoft's other online services are a financial wreck, Microsoft also needs any help it can get from Mozilla.
What I wonder now is how people will react to this move. When Microsoft partnered with Novell in November 2006, many free-software fans were enraged. To this day, there are Linux users who won't touch SUSE Linux because of its Microsoft connection.
By going over to Microsoft' dark side has Mozilla improved its immediate financial future at the cost of its soul? Ah, I mean, open-source user-base? Stay tuned for the next episode: Return of the Free Software.