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Mozilla upsets net world order with Bing on Firefox

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The Firefox 4 search toolbar will offer Microsoft Bing as an alternative to Google, as Mozilla takes another step towards its traditional nemesis — and apparently hedges its bets against its traditional sugar daddy.

As Mozilla announced this morning with a blog post, the latest English-language version of Mozilla's open source browser — due for release in November — will retain Google as the default search engine. But for the first time, Bing will be listed in the pull-down that lets you change the default. Google will be first on the menu. Yahoo! — now powered by Bing — will be second. And Bing will be third.

"Bing...offers a user experience that we think users will find valuable, and with its significant rise in popularity over the last year, we will also be including Bing as a general search option for English language users," Mozilla's post reads.

Though this is not addressed in the blog post, Mozilla has signed a financial agreement with Microsoft. "The arrangement includes revenue-sharing based on traffic sent from Firefox to Bing's search service," says a Mozilla FAQ.

Previously, users could manually add Bing to the menu. And famously, this past December, when Google boss Eric Schmidt told the world that only miscreants care about net privacy, Mozilla director of community development Asa Dotzler encouraged Firefox users to make the switch from Google to Bing.

Speaking with The Reg on the fifth anniversary of Firefox 1.0, Dotzler told us that Mozilla chooses its Firefox search defaults independently of its financial agreements. For instance, he said, Google receives such prominent placement in the US and Western Europe only because it's the best search option in those regions. In China, the default is Baidu. In Russia, it's Yandex.

This was echoed by today's blog post from Mozilla. "Google remains the most popular general search and it will remain as the default search option, unless you change it," the post reads. And the FAQ indicates that the Microsoft pact has no effect on Mozilla's relationship with Google: "Google is, and remains, one of Mozilla's strongest partners. Google and Mozilla are well aligned on most issues affecting the open web. We have worked collaboratively on many initiatives in the past and expect to continue to do so in the future."

Google has traditionally supplied almost all of Mozilla's revenue. Since 2004, an agreement between the two has given the open sourcers a portion of all Google search cash generated by Firefox traffic, and according to Mozilla's latest financial statements, 91 per cent of its revenue came from Mountain View.

But their deal is set to expire in 2011, and since it was last renewed in 2008, Mountain View has introduced its own browser: Google Chrome. In fact, the 2008 renewal was announced just days before Chrome was revealed.

In December, Asa Dotzler indicated that Mozilla would work to 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 said. "This is definitely something we're thinking about."

Not that Microsoft Bing can be described as an "emerging" search engine. But Mozilla's move towards Bing shows how much the browser landscape has changed in the past two years. Firefox was founded specifically to fight the Redmond borg, and in 2008, the thought of the two signing a search deal was almost beyond the pale. But with Google now a Mozilla competitor as well as a partner, the open sourcers must explore additional sources of revenue.

What's more, Google and Mozilla continue to diverge when it comes to net philosophy. Yes, the two remain in agreement on some very big issues, including Google's open source media format, WebM, based on the video codec the company acquired when it purchased compression outfit On2 Technologies. But they don't exactly see eye-to-eye on things such as Google's Native Client, a means of running native code inside Chrome. Mozilla prefers to stick with web standards, like JavaScript.

And since we spoke to him in December, Dotzler — one of the co-founders of the original Firefox project — has been a frequent critic of Google boss Eric Schmidt, answering Schmidt's public comments on net privacy and anonymity with pithy posts that get straight to the heart of the matter. "Yeah, and that'll scale really well," he wrote when Schmidt told The Wall Street Journal that in the future, everyone will be entitled to automatically change their names when they reach adulthood in order to escape all the embarrassing stuff they did on social networking sites in their youth.

Certainly, there are still tensions between Mozilla and Microsoft as well. But the old world order — Google and Mozilla on one side, Microsoft on the other — is no more. ®

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