For those who have not yet seen it, the
by Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker is worth a read.
This document provides an overview of the state of the Mozilla project from
a few different points of view. Some of the highlights are:
- Mozilla brought in $66.8 million in 2006, while spending less
than $20 million. As a result, Mozilla is putting aside some
nice piles of cash; total assets at the end of 2006 were just over
- Expenditures were mostly on software development ($12 million),
but Mozilla also spent almost $5 million on sales and marketing.
$300,000 was donated to various community efforts, a number which is
expected to grow significantly in 2007.
- Interest in the software remains strong: toward the end of 2006
Mozilla was serving 600,000 Firefox downloads - every day.
- The development community appears to be growing, with "over 1000"
people contributing code to Firefox 2. Only 50 of those people
are employed by Mozilla. The Mozilla community may not yet be up to
the size of the Linux kernel, but it is clearly one of the largest and
most active development communities out there.
There are a number of interesting things to ponder in this announcement.
Many of them tie back to one core point: 85% of Mozilla's 2006 revenue came
from Google. Of the rest, a significant amount was interest earned on
Mozilla's money stash. So Google must clearly have a high degree of
influence over what goes on at Mozilla Corp. Even if Google sticks to its
"don't be evil" mantra, questions will be asked.
A classic example would be the recent decision to push the Thunderbird mail
client out of the nest to fend for itself. It does not take too much
imagination to see a conflict of interest between promotion of Thunderbird and
Google's Gmail service. It would not be surprising if Google did not want
its money going to pay for the development of a project which could be seen
as competing with its own offerings. The claim is that Google has nothing
to do with the decision to spin off Thunderbird, and it could well be
true. But there will always be cause to wonder - though the recent
addition of IMAP service to Gmail can only serve to lessen any conflict of
interest with Thunderbird.
Mitchell's posting talks about the influence Mozilla has had in the
restoration of a standards-based Internet. That can only be true; the net
(and the world wide web in particular) was clearly going in a proprietary
direction before Firefox brought competition back to the browser arena.
Your editor, who once relied heavily on the user agent
switcher extension, now cannot remember when its use was last
required. In this regard, Mozilla has clearly been a beneficial force for
the free software community, and for the net as a whole.
That result, perhaps, has been the biggest outcome that Google will have
sought from its financing of Mozilla. Google depends on an open net for
The posting also makes this claim:
Millions of people who would not otherwise know of or care about
open source software are exposed to it and experience its power.
While getting free software onto all of those Windows desktops must be a
good thing, it is not clear how many of them are really learning anything
about free software in the process. Meanwhile, there is a steady stream of
grumbling about how Mozilla seems to have forgotten Linux in its drive to
colonize Windows desktops. Integration with Linux distributions is not
always as good as one would like, Mozilla's security update and support
policies are not distributor-friendly, the trademark policy is obnoxious,
and so on. These issues would not appear to have kept distributors from
shipping Firefox or users from running it, though.
One potential issue, as Don Marti pointed out, is that this
growing pile of money cannot fail to attract the attention of patent
trolls. A body of software as large and complex as Firefox must inevitably
violate no end of software patents given the ease with which those patents
are obtained in the U.S. There is probably trouble ahead in this regard,
though that remains true for much of the commercial free software community
One other future concern is what happens when the current contract with
Google expires - next year. Perhaps it will simply be extended and
business as normal will continue. Or perhaps Google will conclude that the
goal of re-opening the web has succeeded, that Firefox users are highly
likely to use Google's services anyway, and that there is no great need to
send as much money in that direction. A project which spends over
$2 million in administrative overhead cannot handle the loss of a
large part of its funding without significant changes.
What a lot of this comes down to is one single subject which was not
addressed in this report: if Mozilla is to continue to grow, be
sustainable, and be independent in the future, it needs to diversify its
income stream. Any business (and Mozilla Corp. is certainly a business)
which is dependent on a single customer is in a risky position. Your
editor is in no position to say how that diversification should be done -
that's Ms. Baker's job. But it is easy to say that the effort which has so
spectacularly driven the web toward open standards and free software would
be in a better position to drive the next big set of changes if it stood on a
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