Mozilla's Sword of Damocles

A renewed Google deal means Firefox will live to surf another day, but at what cost?

Even though Google has apparently renewed its search deal with Mozilla's Firefox browser, the free software browser is going to face some rough times ahead.

According to a report posted overnight on eMoneyDaily, the two sides have worked out a renewal of the deal where Google sponsors its search engine's presence within the Firefox search bar.

"Though both companies are not ready to provide the value of the deal, it is estimated at $85 million," the article stated.

The deal, though not its particulars, were confirmed by a Google spokesperson.

This news is particularly welcome, especially after a recent StatCounter report that put Google's Chrome browser over Firefox to take the number two browser spot. This news, along with Mozilla's recent decision to accept a similar sponsorship for Microsoft's Bing search tool in the Firefox search bar, raised doubts that Google would renew its sponsorship.

Depending on who you ask, Google's sponsorship accounts for up to 80 percent of Mozilla's annual revenue.

With this renewal, Mozilla fans may be breathing a sigh of relief.

They shouldn't.

I am not often crudely blunt, but I think this situation warrants it, if only to slap some sense into Mozilla:

Does anyone else see it as outrageously crazy that Mozilla's flagship application--and indeed the much of the entire organization--is being sponsored by the two main competitors of Mozilla Firefox?

Harsh? Yes. Wrong? I don't think so. Google and Microsoft, companies that hold the number two and number one in browser share slots, respectively, seem to now be the primary financial supporters of Mozilla. What's even more outrageous is that the Mozilla Foundation seems to think this is a good thing--because to date they seem unwilling to change this situation.

And before anyone goes off and accuses me of arguing against this situation because "Microsoft is evil", they can just stop right there. This is a questionable situation regardless of the politics of free, open source, and proprietary software. These are competitors to Mozilla, like it or not, and at the end of the day they will do what it in their best interests to succeed. Being public companies, they have to.

This is not a new argument for me. Even as I said in October that politics should not matter in regards to Microsoft sponsoring Mozilla, I also wondered about the dependence Mozilla seems to have placed on its competitors:

"With all the hullaballoo about Mozilla's partnership with Microsoft, I think the larger question that needs to be asked is: does Mozilla need to come up with a better revenue model? Whether it's Google, Microsoft, or whatever company, it seems to me that depending too much on such a large source of revenue could lead to trouble down the line."

Put another way, this situation would be exactly as insane if one were to describe McDonald's and Subway providing a majority of Burger King's revenue.

This is got to stop. Mozilla is in a bad situation here, and its leadership and community need to figure out a way for the organization to generate alternate forms of revenue. You cannot put all of your eggs in one basket, and you sure as heck should not let your competitors hold the basket for you.

Firefox and the rest of the Mozilla product set represent the best tools to keep the Web more free and open, and away from the walled garden scenario I described Monday. I truly want Firefox to succeed, as an open source advocate and as a personal user.

But this current situation strikes me as a far too dangerous proposition for Mozilla. There has--indeed must--be a better way.

Let the discussion begin.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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