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Firefox at 5: the Google Cold War

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Google? 'It's awkward'

But this we know. The bigger question is how Firefox will progress on a web increasingly dominated by Google. At the moment, Google Chrome owns a mere 4 per cent of the market, but it will soon be the centerpiece of a Google desktop operating system, and with Android - which uses a separate browser based on the open source WebKit project - Mountain View is stretching its beefy tentacles onto mobile phones, an area where Mozilla - like so many others - is still searching for a foothold.

Since the Chrome beta was released in the fall of 2008, there's no denying that at least the logistical relationship between the two companies has changed. "[Google] actually participated in the development of Firefox and have worked on other Mozilla projects, so we have [Google] friends and allies who are programmers and testers and they've offered device and usability expertise and distribution help and all kinds of other things," he says. "That has changed a little bit. Some of the people who were working on Firefox at Google are now working on Chrome."

Dotzler tosses in that common argument that more competition is a good thing. But he acknowledges that such competition has put an added strain on the relationship. "It's a little bit awkward. And it's completely OK to say it's a little bit awkward," he says.

"Google has a different vision of the web than Mozilla and a different set of motivations for building a browser. No matter what happens in terms of feature competition and things like this, we have something distinct at Mozilla. We're trying to make sure that individual empowerment and choice and participation are fundamental pieces of the fabric of online life."

Yes, Google's vision is providing 88 per cent of Mozilla revenues - at least by last (public) count; the organization's 2008 tax return is due out later this month - but Dotzler doesn't see a contradiction.

Mozilla and the search for meaning

In so many countries - including the US and the UK - Google is Mozilla's default home page and its default search box. But Mozilla chooses those defaults independent of any revenue pact. Dotzler says that Google receives such prominent placement only because it's the best search option - in those countries. In China, the default is Baidu. In Russia, the default is Yandex.

Mozilla has revenue deals with myriad search engines, and Dotzler dreams of a world where more outfits are pushing Google for that default spot. "We believe that search is getting more diverse at least geographically, but within the States and Western Europe, it is dominated by Google right now. In some ways that's wonderful, because they provide a great service. But in other ways, it's little bit unfortunate, because it means there isn't a highly competitive landscape that's moving the state of the art forward," he says

"Less competition is not what we're after here."

In 2004, the not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation spun-off the for-profit Mozilla Corporation so that it could make use of the ample funds streaming in from Google and others. But unlike Google and Microsoft, Mozilla is not a public company.

"We are a mission-driven organization that is at its roots an open-source, non-profit, public-benefit organization," he says.

He even hints that there may be a way for Firefox to help spark some extra competition in the search market. "Maybe there is some opportunity for Mozilla to help feature or highlight emerging search organizations or features in a way we're not doing today," he says. "This is definitely something we're thinking about."

Cold war indeed. ®

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