Mother Jones, the lefty politics magazine based in San Francisco, tarnishes its usually sterling reputation for tough investigative reporting with an interview with Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit behind the Firefox Web browser. The deepest "inside the Firefox's den" they venture? Exposing the arresting effects of Baker's mane of red hair on the mostly male-dominated rooms she commands. If Mother Jones were up to its usual hijinks, it would be asking Baker, instead, about rumors that Mozilla faces a $14 million back tax bill after flunking its latest audit.Mozilla hasn't filed financials since its 2006 report, when it just squeaked by a rule that allowed it to avoid disbursing more of the money that has gushed into its coffers from a lucrative search-referral deal with Google. Since nonprofits like Mozilla are allowed to file their finances on a downright sluggish schedule, it will be some time before we know what's really happening with the browser maker. But it has been holding onto a large chunk of change just in case it faced a challenge over its nonprofit status, and we've heard that the latest review of Mozilla's finances didn't hold good news. Wouldn't that have made for a much interesting conversation than whether Baker considers herself a geek sex symbol? (Photo via Mother Jones)
Before the first iPhone was released, Apple wanted Opera to build the browser for the iPhone, says a source. Negotiations dragged on for six months, the sticking point being exclusivity — Apple wanted it, but Opera was unwilling to commit, seeing a larger market for licensing its proprietary software to multiple handset manufacturers. Eventually, Apple walked away armed with ideas from the negotiations and built a version of its own Safari browser for the popular mobile device. Meanwhile, Opera ended up as the browser of choice for the blockbuster Nintendo Wii, and Opera Mini did much to saturate the mobile handset market. But is the iPhone claim simply a proud boast made by an indiscreet senior manager at a company party? Maybe.The real question is, why would Apple have approached Opera in the first place? Simple. It's not like the Cupertino company has thousands of employees to throw at a browser project — with only a few thousand in corporate and the rest in retail, Apple is actually happy to outsource engineering whenever possible. Especially when the company can ensure an exclusivity deal and enforce some creative control over the interface. But that demand of exclusivity led Opera to bow out, which forced Apple to end up developing its own mobile browser after all. If the source's assertion is true, passing on Apple could prove a miscalculation on Opera's part. Apple is said to have offered it a large piece of then-theoretical iPhone sales. Opera chose a smaller piece of a larger pie in licensing its Opera Mini to multiple carriers and manufacturers, and so far, it's done fine with that strategy. But even with the bugs and lawsuits, the iPhone is set to beat Steve Jobs's public estimates that Apple would sell 10 million units this year. Meanwhile, mobile search partner Google is intent on porting the company's new Chrome browser to the Android mobile software platform and both Mozilla and Microsoft recently upgraded their competing Firefox and Explorer browsers. Four years in, and Opera has big money to blow on a bar tab at the Supper Club in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood. That will buy a lot of champagne and at least a temporary warp in Apple's reality distortion field. But enough to make up for the iPhone money Opera passed up? That remains to be seen.
Ever suspected those "Report Bug" tools in Web browsers leave you shouting into an abyss, your feedback discarded? An engineer at Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, has just confirmed that's actually been the case for months. Mark Smith explains that his misconfiguration of database led to the loss of three months of data about websites which users say Firefox doesn't display correctly, information Mozilla uses to "help prioritize fixes to the browser."The loss is especially ill timed, given the recent launch of Google's Chrome browser, which Google says uses the search engine's extensive index of the Web to test for display bugs. Smith is taking the error like a man: "I fucking did it and it was my fault and that's that." But he might want to update his recent post about optimizing database configurations for Web applications. Experience is the best teacher of all.
The real browser war isn't between Microsoft and anyone. It's between Firefox and Google Chrome, jostling to become the aftermarket browser of choice. Yesterday, a Google engineer assured News.com that the company's new open-source browser processes webpages much faster than Mozilla Firefox — "Many times faster. I guarantee you." Mozilla engineers released their own test results that show Firefox with a slight performance edge. But the latest test, run independently by News.com, skews the other way.News.com reporter Stephen Shankland ran tests suggested by the Chrome team. Google's browser trounced the rest of the field:
Blogger Jason Kottke has been asking for a Google browser for seven years. So, too, have Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In 2001, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told them the company wasn't ready to take on Microsoft in a full-fledged browser war, Steven Levy reported in his Wired feature on Google's new browser, "Inside Chrome: The Secret Project to Crush IE and Remake the Web." But I don't think Google's project is really about taking on Microsoft. It's about Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, in a feud that stretches back almost two years.John Lilly, the CEO of Mozilla, has said he's "not worried" about Google Chrome. That's classic PR-speak. Mozilla and Google are financially intertwined; Firefox makes money for Mozilla by referring users to Google's search engine; that traffic, in turn, generates advertising revenues for Google. But Mozilla has shown some signs of independence, signing a deal with Yahoo for search in some parts of Asia. And the larger Firefox gets — its browser-usage share has reached 20 percent, according to some estimates — the more leverage it has over Google. Sure, in theory, Microsoft can tie its Internet Explorer browser to its Web search and mapping services, generating traffic. But that's been the theory for years. Can we say it? Microsoft's online services just aren't very good, which is why users avoid them and they're losing money hand over fist. A new browser won't change that. So Firefox, not Internet Explorer 8, is the real strategic problem for Google. Of course, it's impolite to say so. Firefox, as an open-source project, is beloved by geeks, even though its executives are well paid and the project is gushing cash. (Mozilla Corp., a for-profit corporation, is owned by the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit; the company's profits can thereby flow up to the foundation without violating its tax-exempt status. Neat how that works, eh?) Google would also face an all-out rebellion in the ranks if it came out and said it's taking on Firefox. But there's reason for the Googlers behind Chrome to start a grudge match. Several key engineers — Ben Goodger and Darin Fisher among them — devoted considerable volunteer time to Firefox before joining Google's browser project. An article posted on the Truth about Mozilla blog in February says Mozilla's CTO, Brendan Eich — a veteran of Netscape — removed Goodger as a Firefox "module owner" in September 2006. Being the "owner" of a module, while a volunteer position, carries considerable cachet. Goodger subsequently removed himself from the Firefox project, as did colleagues like Fisher and Pam Greene. Wired now reveals the motivation behind Eich's move: By June 2006, Goodger and others had created a prototype of Chrome. If Lilly wasn't worried about Google's browser, why would Eich take Goodger off Firefox? In any event, removing Goodger played into Google's hands, making him all the more willing to take on Mozilla. The infighting between the browser maker and the search engine shows the limits of open source's "sharing is caring" ideology. Open-source projects can be just as political as proprietary code — and as vulnerable to twisting for corporate priorities. The bottom line of Google Chrome's creation? The bottom line. Google was worried that Firefox was making too much money, and Mozilla was getting too independent. Mozilla had to be stopped — and the true Firefox believers at Google had to be cajoled into doing Larry and Sergey's dirty work. (Illustration of Ben Goodger by Scott McCloud)
Only four years after its launch, Mozilla's Google-milking cash cow Web browser, Firefox, is now approaching 20 percent market share, reports NetApplications, a website-statistics provider. Just two months ago, over 8 million people downloaded a copy of Firefox 3, in a marketing stunt which garnered Mozilla a Guinness record. Meanwhile, Internet Explorer is dipping below 70 percent market share. [TGDaily]
A new version of Firefox, the popular alternative Web browser, is getting close to releasing a third version. That's prompting people to take a close look at the business practices of Mozilla Corp., the maker of Firefox. Danny Sullivan, the longtime search-engine observer, is calling on Mozilla to let Firefox users pick the search engine built into their browser; Firefox 3 defaults to Google in its new release, as it has in the past. Sullivan has a point: Google, which has called for openness, risks seeming hypocritical. But he gets the business side of things all wrong.
Flock, the social Web browser startup founded by former Mozilla business-development guy Bart Decrem, has defied its faded buzz to score an additional $15 million in funding, bringing the total raised in the $27 million range. Twitter, the current darling of The 250, has yet to close a rumored deal to raise the same amount. [PaidContent]
Mozilla's 10th anniversary party at 111 Minna last night felt a little like a high school reunion for the kids who didn't go to their high school reunion. The Mozilla Foundation, maker of the Firefox browser, feigned poverty by renting just half the gallery space and serving up crudités and issuing one drink ticket per guest, only later splurging by opening up the bar. There was some awkward dancing to Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," old jean jackets embroidered with the Netscape logo, a gargantuan chocolate cake and a photo booth. Many of the oldsters who were around when CSS was just a dream and Ajax was still used to scrub toilets also traded reminiscences of Burning Man, tech society's annual prom. Mozilla Foundation chair Mitchell Baker earned part of her $500,000 salary by giving a brief speech. And sign-toter Frank Chu showed up, uninvited but always welcome. But the talk of the party was the man who wasn't there.
Tomorrow, Netscape is officially dead: AOL is ending support for the venerable browser. But its offspring, Firefox, is thriving. Both Netscape and Firefox had several brushes with death. In 1998, "Microsoft was driving their monster truck after us and they were about to pin us to the wall," former Netscape software engineer Brendan Eich recently told the San Francisco Chronicle. Before that could happen, however, Netscape execs James Barksdale, Eric Hahn, Mike Homer and cofounder Marc Andreessen decided to open the browser's source code to the community. Behold, Mozilla. But the organization wasn't independent of Netscape owner AOL yet. And here's a shocker, AOL executives nearly killed Mozilla through neglect. So who saved the baby?
John Lilly, the new CEO of Mozilla Corporation, doesn't want you to pay attention to his new charge. The for-profit arm of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation produces the Firefox browser and makes money largely by partnering with search engines — that's why the Firefox browser comes with a Google or Yahoo search box built in. "The most successful case for [Mozilla Corporation] will be when the corporation itself is sort of invisible," Lilly writes. Now, why would Lilly want you not to pay attention to his very profitable business — $66.8 million in revenues for the foundation, $56 million of which came from the corporation, in 2006, the most recent year for which it reported results? Perhaps it's because there are questions he'd rather you not ask.
Opera Software, maker of a feature-laden but forgotten Web browser, is complaining to the European Commission about Microsoft's Internet Explorer. It's an old gripe: Opera points out — duh — that IE is bundled with Windows. Opera claims this is illegal and that IE holds back the web with lousy support for standards. This smells like a publicity stunt meant to remind people Opera still exists.
Mozilla is looking for guinea pigs to try out the new version of its browser, Firefox 3 Beta 1. Mozilla calls itself a "foundation" and its slogan is "Good for the Web. Good for the World." But you know better than that. Mozilla topper Mitchell Baker makes $500,000-plus a year and Mozilla's for-profit wing brought in $56 million in revenues last year. In other words, no one should feel obligated by a sense of charity to download the new beta software. Baker & Co. could afford to pay for some actual QA engineers.