Google keeping the wolf from Firefox' door

FOSDEM: The Mozilla Foundation's partnership with Google has kept it afloat for the past few months, and is now allowing it to hire more staff

The Mozilla Foundation's deal with Google is playing a crucial role in helping the non-profit organisation challenge Microsoft with its Firefox browser.

Gervase Markham, a Mozilla staff member, said on Sunday that over the past year the Foundation has hired around 10 people, which would not have been possible without the money that Firefox makes by linking to Google.

"The Google deal has provided a significant stream of income for the Foundation," said Markham, speaking at the FOSSDEM conference in Brussels. "Without that deal the Foundation would not have been in a position to have hired some of the people that it has."

Following an agreement reached last year, Firefox includes Google as the default option for users wanting to search the Web directly, and also has its default start page hosted by Google. Markham didn't reveal full details of the Foundation's deal with Google.

The main disadvantage of the deal with Google is that native language versions of Firefox are not permitted to change the default search engine to one that is more useful for searching Web pages in a particular language.

"That [the Google deal] is why official localised builds are not allowed to change the search engine," said Markham. "In one way this is a restriction, but the deal has allowed things to happen."

The money has also helped fund an extra five vacancies that the Mozilla Foundation is looking to fill at the moment. Applicants must be a contributor, or must get a contributor to vouch for the quality of their work.

Markham said the Foundation may sign more sponsorship deals in the future, but is cautious of making too many deals as this could have a negative impact on usability. He claims this is one problem that Netscape encountered.

"Netscape ran into trouble with its browser as it sold every bookmark and link, and couldn't change the browser in a way that was better for users without breaking its deals," said Markham. "We're very aware that Netscape fell into this trap and don't want to do same thing. Google was the default browser for Firefox before we even signed the deal."

Tristan Nitot, the president of Mozilla Europe, who was also speaking at FOSDEM, said that although his group is struggling to survive on its current budget, it will be careful about making any deals. He said that Mozilla Europe has carried out the majority of its marketing activity on "zero budget", having spent the majority of its $20,000 allowance from the Mozilla Foundation on a large booth at the NetWorld/Interop conference in Paris last year.

"We are considering making custom versions [of Firefox] for portals and ISPs in Europe," said Nitot. "A balance has to be found between dealing with the brand and keeping the user experience. We've had offers from large portals which would solve every money issue that we have, but we would have to do stuff that we don't want to do. Mozilla Europe could be very rich now, but we said no."

Voluntary contributions are another vital source of income for the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Europe. Markham said the Mozilla Foundation did "very well" out of its recent New York Times ad campaign, as it was offered a discounted rate for the ad with the remaining money going to the Foundation. Nitot encouraged Mozilla fans to become members of Mozilla Europe as the membership fees are an important source of income.