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Like ice, like fire

Such a large organisation, with more employees than most open source foundations can afford, has to be aware of funding issues and their impact on the end user. To this end Mozilla has built in revenue "relationships with Google and Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, and the Russian search engine, Yandex" by which Mozilla has gained from the unobtrusive placement of search facilities.

Baker observes that in reality "ninety per cent of Mozilla's revenue comes from Google, so we get a lot of questions about the stability of that relationship and concerns that our revenues aren't diversified."

Baker believes the relationship is stable because "350 million people use Firefox and that is a lot of traffic. People think our of our relationship with Google as unique but it really isn't. Google shares revenue with websites through Google ads, and shares revenue with Mozilla in much the same way. So it's part of the business model of the web, and brings people and revenue to Google."

Since Google's release of Chrome, which is effectively a competitor to Firefox, "People say 'don't you think that that means Google will end its relationship with you' but Google has lots of revenue, and Mozilla still has 350 million users, so as long as Firefox has users who like it and use it, we are still a good business opportunity for Google."

On another level Google has a vested interest in the success of Firefox because of a shared interest in open standards which is advantageous to Google's business. Baker says "One good side effect of Chrome, is that people used to say that Google controlled us. Chrome has toned that down a bit. We don't agree with Google on everything. We are very different organisations, but we share a common interest in the use of open standards." An open web is vital to Google's business model and the worldwide success of Firefox helps to ensure the maintenance of an open web.

On the issue of diversification of revenue, Baker is equally upbeat. "People say 'Isn't it bad' [that Google provides 90% of Mozilla's revenue] and I say 'Well, yes and no.'" Mozilla receives something between 80 and 90 million dollars a year from Google, but Google spends that many times over driving people towards internet search and its revenue models. She says "In any case, it's a good revenue source for us. It's very simple and understandable for us. We put search in that people like and it allows us to focus on building an open web. That said, diversification would probably be a good thing, as long as we can do it in ways that benefit the people using our product."

"That is one of the things that came out of our earlier fights with AOL and Netscape. Do you build a product that helps some other business model? Or do you build a browser that helps people to interact with the Web the way they want to? We are on the far end of that spectrum because of our mission and history. So yes, we should probably diversify, but we are not promoting a business because somebody is writing us a cheque, but because its good for people to use."

Bubbling merrily

Mozilla's big push at the moment is in the mobile space, and although the mobile browser is also called Firefox it is a different animal with different priorities. Baker concedes that Firefox "doesn't have a big footprint on mobile devices yet. We planned to develop the first version on a friendly device, which was the Nokia n900. It doesn't have a large market share, but has an operating system, Linux, that we know how to work with. Firefox on the n900 is a good browser and we are happy with it, so we are looking to have Firefox on Nokia's next generation platform. We are also developing for other platforms, such as Android, which we are expecting to see later this year, and expect some success."

The most popular mobile platform of the moment is the iPhone which "is very closed and specific, and Apple have limitations in their developer kit about what you can and cannot do, and we've always been on the can't do list. They did approve Opera mini and we don't know why. Probably the best way to put it is that Apple makes itself an unfriendly platform for a set of developers and we're one of them."

Mozilla maintains a diverse range of projects "not all of which show up as consumer products. Our focus is browser-based, to build new functionality into the web, rich video or the ability to have exciting interesting aesthetically pleasing fonts."

"The reason we are focussed on the browser space is that it's the main delivery platform for the web. The browser was the first step and is bubbling merrily, but our mission is that we should own our own internet experience, and not just be a number in some gigantic machine-based system some company runs. So we are doing experiments into the contact space, and your ability to track and maintain personal contacts and information through the browser, whether it's bookmarks or history or passwords, to use across multiple machines, encrypted and stored on a Mozilla server, and available only to the user. The agenda is you or me, the individual user, not revenue for our shareholders but empowerment of our stakeholders, so the information is not available to Mozilla or anybody else, and can't be mined or monetised."

The open web

The Mozilla project has made it part of its remit that it encourages open standards and the open web, in marked contrast to its proprietary competitors (with the honourable exception of Opera) and its predecessors, who were prone to adding proprietary features to the browsing experience which inhibited interoperability and hindered the work of web developers who had to work around the chaos that ensued.

The subsequent success of Firefox, and ensuing campaigns by web developers to cease support for IE 6, have ensured some level of standards compliance and a move away from dependence on proprietary extensions and formats - although the hoo-hah over HTML5 and the H.264 video codec is evidence enough that interoperability is an ongoing issue for developers.

Google's prospective announcement of the open sourcing of VP8, due to be made at the Google I/O developers event at the end of May, has been a big fillip for the Mozilla developers who are "excited that Google has been willing and interested to make this contribution. The suggestion of a video tag within the browser came from Opera's CTO, Hakon Wiem Lie, some years ago," and was finally accepted for HTML5. Since then the issue of the patents surrounding H.264 has created problems both for Mozilla and the future of standards on the Web, so it is seen as a significant step forward for Mozilla that Google has used its resources and investment to release a codec that is at least the equal of, and probably superior to, H.264, "on an open basis". The Mozilla developers evidently believe that the codec will be royalty-free and unencumbered by patents when Google makes its announcement.

"But there's work to do going forward, encouraging websites to implement the codec, building tools, making it easier for people to use rich video, and administering everything so it can be done through open standards and HTML5. Opening VP8 is a big step and makes the work in front of us so much more exciting."

For other feature articles by Richard Hillesley, please see the archive.

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