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Despite losing Google as its cash cow, Mozilla isn't dead yet

Mozilla's deal with Google was ending. With it went most of the browser maker's income. But now a new deal with Yahoo promises new life for Firefox.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
The New Firefox Yahoo search
This is what Firefox's new Yahoo search results page will look like.
Image: Yahoo

The financial clock was ticking for Mozilla, Firefox's parent organization.

Its Google advertising contract was coming to an end. With 90 percent of Mozilla's income coming from Google, it was far from good news. With the contract ending in November, and no reason for Google to renew the deal with its Chrome Web browser success, things were looking dark as an overcast, moonless night for Mozilla.  

Nevertheless, Mozilla executive Denelle Dixon-Thayer told ZDNet in an e-mail when asked if Google had talked with the company: "We value all of our search relationships and held conversations with all of our partners."

Even so, I find it hard to imagine that Mozilla's conversations with Google were on the same level as they were in 2011. 

With dwindling Firefox browser usage share, and with big plans but little income for its Firefox smartphone operating system, Mozilla was in danger of just not being able to move forward with its plans, but of tipping over and going under.

The open-source company had already gone through a tumultuous summer that saw controversial chief executive Brendan Eich resign. Earlier, the company announced that it was bringing ads to Firefox, with users strongly objecting to the move.

This year has been annus horribilis — a horrible year  for Mozilla.

In a surprising (and unforeseen) move, Mozilla announced a "strategic five-year partnership" with Yahoo. The deal makes Yahoo the default search engine for Firefox on both mobile devices and PCs in the U.S.

That all sounds good and well. But both Mozilla and Yahoo have been declining in recent years. This strikes me as much more a partnership of two companies in need of all the help they can get, rather than as Mayer put it, "an area of investment, opportunity and growth for us."

One irony of this deal is that this means Microsoft's web search engine Bing will become Firefox's default. That's because Bing has powered Yahoo's search since 2010.

After battling with Microsoft's Internet Explorer since its debut, it's odd to think that Firefox will now depend (albeit one step removed) on Microsoft for a core slice of its revenue.

True, Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer isn't altogether happy with the Bing deal. That said, there's no sign that Yahoo plans on reinventing its own search engine.

While we don't know the financial details behind the deal, it seems reasonable to expect that they were in the same range as the Google-Mozilla deal in 2011. That three year contract gave Mozilla approximately $300 million each year.

I doubt this deal will mean much in the greater world of the Web. For Google, thanks to its search engine and its Chrome browser, it will remain as the top Internet company — for now. We can be sure of one thing as a result of this deal though: Mozilla and Firefox will continue to survive for another five years.

Frankly, without the Yahoo partnership, I honestly thought Firefox was on its way out the door.

Updated: with comment from Mozilla.

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