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Mozilla needs to find alternatives to the Google umbilical

An open web don't come for nothin'

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Open ... and Shut Mozilla doesn't get mentioned much in corporate earnings calls. General web interest seems to be sliding, too. Across social media the attitude toward Mozilla is generally positive, but it gets far less airtime than Google or Apple, the two companies doing more than anyone else to reshape the web in their respective images.

And yet, as I've noted recently, Mozilla has never been more relevant.

It's therefore fortunate that Mozilla continues to be able to pull in significant financial resources. On 15 November Mozilla released its annual report, including its audited financial statements (PDF) for its fiscal year 2011.

Last year, Mozilla registered $163m in revenues, up 33 per cent from its fiscal year 2010 ($123m). The vast majority of its revenue derives from royalties, and of that royalty revenue 85 per cent came from Google.

In most organisations, this would be a red flag. But for Mozilla, Google's contribution is a pretty safe bet, given that Google needs an open web just as much as Mozilla does. That money will flow freely for the foreseeable future.

Which isn't the same as saying that Mozilla has somehow won. It hasn't. There's a lot of work to do, and Mozilla is going to need every penny of that $163m to accomplish it. Mozilla Foundation chair Mitchell Baker calls out the critical ongoing importance of Mozilla to a range of activities on the web, but the one that continues to resonate with me is app portability. As she notes:

Imagine acquiring an app and having it run across multiple devices, whether or not all these devices come from the same vendor. Imagine being able to choose when it makes sense to interact with the app provider directly or instead through Apple, Google or Microsoft.

It remains a major frustration for me that my apps are locked to iTunes. The same is true of the Android or Windows stores. It's what prevents me from switching from iOS to Android, for example, because my family is tied into a common iTunes account, and I don't want to have to buy the same apps/content again for myself or my family if we switch. It's great lock-in if you're a vendor. It's bad for consumers.

And it potentially changes with Mozilla, which is committed to unshackling apps from particular app stores, letting developers have a direct relationship with their users. It's a big task, but it's an exceptionally important one.

Which is why I hope that Mozilla will discover new sources of revenue. It's not that I'm worried about Google turning off Mozilla's air supply, but rather that it feels like Mozilla is confronting a billion-dollar problem. Mozilla added 33 per cent to its revenues over the past year. It needs 333 per cent more.

Any ideas as to where it could come from? ®

Matt Asay is vice president of corporate strategy at 10gen, the MongoDB company. Previously he was SVP of business development at Nodeable, which was acquired in October 2012. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe (now part of Facebook) and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register. You can follow him on Twitter @mjasay.

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