Few deals currently give open-source advocates unrest like Google's deal with Mozilla, which Mozilla Chairperson Mitchell Baker said in a blog post has been renewed for three years, through November 2011.
In the deal, Google pays Mozilla a lot of cash to be the default search engine on Firefox, which commands about 15 percent of the browser market behind perennial market leader Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Google paid Mozilla $57 million in 2006, good for 85 percent of the company's revenues. No wonder Baker was understandably excited in her blog post. She just secured funding for the next three years:
"We've just renewed our agreement with Google for an additional three years. This agreement now ends in November of 2011 rather than November of 2008, so we have stability in income. We're also learning more all the time about how to use Mozilla's financial resources to help contributors through infrastructure, new programs and new types of support from employees."Um, excuse me, but if a company is responsible for 85 percent of your income, it practically owns you. Only the fact that Mozilla is an open-source powerhouse keeps it from being raked over the coals for such an arrangement.
Between Firefox, the Thunderbird e-mail app and new projects like Snowl and Ubiquity, Mozilla is a group run by open-source-minded people, for open-source-minded people. Google has always positioned itself as an open-source supporter in just about everything but search and its apps.
I'm sorry, but by funding Mozilla so mightily, Google owns it by proxy. Google can't buy Mozilla outright because then it would be perceived as just another Microsoft trying to own the browser, and by extension, the Internet.
In fact, if Google bought Mozilla, it would be guilty of what it accused Microsoft would try to do after buying and assimilating Yahoo: making the Internet a proprietary playground for its own devices.
By paying Mozilla's way, Google largely steers clear of the conflicted position of owning a browser that would support its search advertising business.
By owning the desktop operating system and browser markets, Microsoft played into antitrust advocates and ultimately the DOJ's and European Commission's hands.
Google has learned from this and won't make the same mistake by buying Mozilla; but it can control all the same by funding it. Ingenious!