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Shrugs off IPO nonsense

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Open source browser daddy Mozilla Foundation is donning a suit and going back to work for the man.

Mozilla Foundation has announced the formation of the Mozilla Corporation, a for-profit organization that will handle relations with commercial companies and continue development, distribution and marketing of Firefox and Thunderbird.

The corporation will become home to the majority of the foundation’s employees, have its own board of directors, and be overseen by foundation president Mitchell Baker who now becomes the corporation’s prez.

The corporation will initially be home to Firefox and Thunderbird, with projects including Camino and SeaMonkey still overseen by the foundation.

The irony is, of course, that Mozilla only began life after the Netscape Communications business released the code for its Navigator browser to the community, having lost the browser wars to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Mozilla began life using that Netscape code.

There won't, however, be a grand IPO this time around as with the original Netscape. Clearly sensitive to the negative perception that the formation of a commercially oriented corporation could have among the members of the open source community, the Mozilla Foundation was at pains to avoid any accusations it is “selling out”.

Instead, the foundation said that it will retain “100%” ownership over the corporation, that there won’t be an IPO, shareholders, stock options or dividends paid, and that the foundation will own and license the trademarks and intellectual property (IP) to the corporation. Additionally, any profits from the corporation will be invested back into the Mozilla project.

“The foundation is eager to emphasize that it will pursue the same public benefit goals as the foundation itself and will not be driven purely by revenue goals,” Mozilla said on its web site.

Baker himself added in a statement: "[The foundation] is dedicated to the public benefit goal at the heart of the Mozilla project, which is to keep the internet open and available to everyone."

The foundation’s decision to form the commercial entity has clearly been influenced by the growing commercial aspects of its work, though, as Firefox has now surpassed 75 million downloads. “Creation of the Mozilla Corporation should eliminate some of the thorny legal and tax issues that have been caused by the revenue-generating potential of Firefox and Thunderbird,” Mozilla said.

The Mozilla Foundation hopes that by spinning out work on Firefox, especially, will enable it to focus on project and policy efforts, while leaving the commercial organization to deal with a rising tide of business and technology issues.

It is expected the corporation will shepherd the next edition of Firefox through to launch, following cancellation of version 1.1 and postponement of 1.5 until September. The corporation will also likely be tasked with the on-going, practical issues of pumping out bug fixes.

Firefox is now increasing its market share, believed to be between five and 10 per cent depending on which analyst you track, while IE is slowly losing market share for the first time.

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