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Ubuntu Firefox shuns Google for Yahoo! search

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The next release of Ubuntu will scrap Google as the default search engine on its Firefox browser in favor of Yahoo!, thanks to a new revenue-sharing deal between Yahoo! and commercial Ubuntu backer Canonical.

With regulators set to approve Yahoo!'s search pact with Microsoft, this means that Redmond will power the future of Firefox on Ubuntu, a combination with decidedly anti-Redmond connotations. The ultimate irony is that Microsoft will essentially be paying people to build a Linux distro.

Canonical's Rick Spencer announced the Yahoo! revenue deal on Tuesday, with a post to the Ubuntu developer mailing list.

With the next release of Ubuntu - version 10.4, dubbed Lucid Lynx and due in April - Yahoo! will be the default engine in the search box in the top right-hand corner of the Firefox browser bundled with the OS, and Yahoo! search will be the browser's default homepage.

As is typical with Firefox, users will have the option of changing the search box default. This means they can change it back to Google, and thanks to another Lucid Lynx change announced by Spencer, doing so will also switch the browser's homepage to Google. If you choose a search provider other than Google or Yahoo!, Lynx may or may not update the browser's homepage in similar fashion. Canonical has yet to sort out the situation involving other providers.

The outside edge of the browser - where the Firefox search box resides - is known as "the chrome." Not to be confused with the Google web browser of the same name. "In Lucid, the default home page will respect the search provider settings that you have set in the 'chrome,' Spencer writes. "For Lucid, this will definitely work for switching between Google and Yahoo!, we don't yet know what other providers will be in scope for Lucid.

"If a user has Google set as their search provider, they will have exactly the experience they do today. If they switch to Yahoo!, the default home page will switch to using a Yahoo! search. If they switch back to Google, the default home page will switch back to using the Google search, exactly like today."

But Yahoo! will be the default default. "This won't in any way effect the ability of a user to choose and use the search provider of their choice. It's literally 2 easily discoverable clicks to change this setting, a simple matter of switching to that search provider in the chrome by clicking on the icon and choosing the desired provider," Spencer continues.

Spencer did not release details of the pact with Yahoo!, but its aim, he said, is to fund Ubuntu development. "This revenue will help Canonical to provide developers and resources to continue the open development of Ubuntu and the Ubuntu Platform. This change will help provide these resources as well as continuing to respect our user's default search across Firefox."

Google has been the default search provider on Mozilla's Firefox release since 2004, and this provides a vast majority of funding for the open source outfit. According to Mozilla's latest financial statements - for 2008 - Google dollars accounts for 94 per cent of its revenue. In essence, Mozilla pockets a portion of the dollars generated by Google traffic generated by Firefox.

Microsoft's Bing search engine is not an option on the Firefox search box - unless you take the advice of Firefox daddy Asa Dotzler and install a Bing add-on. Yahoo! is an option and presumably the beleaguered web portal is providing at least a small portion of Mozilla's revenues.

Presumably, Canonical's Yahoo! deal will work in much the same way. But the revenue path will be a bit more complicated. In late July, Microsoft and Yahoo! inked a 10-year deal that would see Microsoft search and advertising technologies drive Yahoo!'s search engine, while Yahoo! handles traditional ad sales on both its search site and Microsoft's. The deal still requires regulatory approval, but this is expected any day now.

So, yes, a Canonical revenue-sharing deal with Yahoo! means a certain portion of its revenues will now come from Redmond.

It's also worth noting that in shunning Google on Ubuntu Firefox, Canonical has shunned a company with close ties to the OS. Internally, Google has long used a version of Ubuntu dubbed, yes, Goobuntu, and Ubuntu underpins Google's upcoming Chrome OS. ®

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