Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome Represent 2-Pronged Attack on Microsoft

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-11-20 Print this article Print

Update: Notes Mozilla comprises non-profit foundation and for-profit corporation.

Bloggers are wielding truncheons over the news that a) Mozilla is leaning more heavily than ever on Google for cash and b) the Internal Revenue Service is auditing Mozilla for it.

The furor began yesterday, Nov. 19, after the Mozilla said $66 million of the $75.1 million in its 2007 sales (for the non-profit foundation and for-profit corporation) came from Google. (PDF) That means 88 percent of Mozilla's funds come from Google, which pays Mozilla to have Google be the default search engine in its Firefox browser.

As TechCrunch points out, Google and Mozilla have extended this arrangement through November 2011, so how much of Mozilla's revenue will Google be ponying up by then?

Because of Google's growing financial support, the IRS is now poring over Mozilla's books. You can have a field day with this one, laughing at how Mozilla presents itself officially as part non-profit and part for-profit when it appears to be another business of Google.

What's bothering me is the broader question of what Google has designed for Mozilla beyond 2011. See, Google in September launched its own Web browser, Chrome. Imagine the financial possibilities gleaned from information the world's leading search engine can harvest with a Web browser it controls. That's the kind of weapon Chrome can be for Google.

As Marc Andreessen can tell you, you don't launch a Web browser unless you are determined to be a major gateway for Internet users all over the world. That means going through Microsoft Internet Explorer, which blew Andreessen's Netscape out of the water.

Let's suppose Google wants to usurp control of the browser market. The ascendance of Mozilla Firefox, under the financial aegis of Google, has made the idea of challenging IE somewhat more probable.

In a handful of years, Mozilla has done what no other browser rival has done: taken share from IE. Firefox is now at 20 percent, with IE at around 71 percent.

You would think Google would let Mozilla continue to take share from Microsoft with its money (meanwhile reaping the amazing traffic rewards of hosting its search box on the world's second most popular browser).

At the current rate, that could take on the order of 20 years. The emergence of Chrome means Google either wants to levy a two-headed browser attack against Microsoft or is using Firefox as a proxy until Chrome begins to gain share the way Mozilla has.

Chrome to me is evidence that Google is not content to wait 20 years to capture the browser mantle from IE, which was gasping for air until IE 7 came along (ironically, Microsoft said IE 8 is delayed until 2009).

If Chrome, which currently accounts for only .74 percent of browser users, according to Net Applications, languishes, expect Google to continue to support Mozilla, and even exert more control over Mozilla to attack Microsoft.

That could be tricky because it would alienate a lot of hard-core open-source lovers who despise Google the way they despised Microsoft when it was a bigger threat. Where the Web is concerned, Google is now the bigger threat.

If Chrome use spikes and soars over the next few years, expect Google to ditch Firefox to go after Microsoft in one-on-one combat. But for now, I see Google as attacking Microsoft both by helping Firefox flourish under Mozilla and by fostering its own Chrome strategy.

Another point to consider: Does Google really want to take the browser market outright from Microsoft, which is almost as daunting a prospect as Microsoft trying to take the search mantle from Google?

Or are Google's machinations in the browser world just another distraction to keep Microsoft from gaining in search? Remember, some people feel Google Apps is merely a distraction for Microsoft.

If all of this browser play is just a distraction to keep Microsoft at bay in search, it's a testament to Google's sneaky, patient resolve as a combat strategist. But that doesn't mean it will pay off.

There is no endgame to this chess match in sight, but the role of Gatekeeper of the Web is at stake. |

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