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06 Dec 11 Google Confirms Mozilla Deal, Despite Chrome’s Ascent


Google scored a major victory in the browser wars last week when Web tracking firm StatCounter reported that the company’s Chrome browser overtook Mozilla Firefox to become the second most popular desktop Web browser in the world.

At the time, we wondered just what impact the new configuration would have on non-profit Mozilla’s longstanding critical deal to receive search royalties from Google, in exchange for making Google the default search option in the upper-right hand corner of Firefox. The deal, worth an estimated $85 million, was due to expire in November.

But lucky for Mozilla, the deal appears to have been renewed, despite increasing competition between Mozilla and Google’s browsers. As a Google spokesperson told TPM: “We can confirm that we still have a deal with Mozilla, but have nothing new to share at this time.”

Google also declined to comment directly on the StatCounter news of Chrome’s rapid ascent, but added: “Three years ago, we built Chrome to help spur more innovation on the web and we’re excited that over 200 million people around the world are using it. We continue to remain focused on building a much better browsing experience and giving people even greater access to the web.”

Sources close to Google also acknowledged that Mozilla Firefox was responsible for pioneering many of the innovations in early Web browsing, including the introduction of tabs and built-in search, both of which have been adopted by Chrome.

Mozilla, for its part, was more cryptic, not addressing our direct inquiry about its deal with Google. A Mozilla spokesperson did provide TPM with the following statement pertaining to the StatCounter numbers:

“Firefox demonstrated just how important browsers are but it’s important to remember that the reasons for building Web browsers are significantly different from one company to the next. Mozilla is unique in that we build Firefox to provide a truly independent offering, focused solely on individual experience and the overall good of the Web. Firefox is holding its own in the face of increased competition, with hundreds of millions of users worldwide choosing a web browser that answers only to them.”

Google and Mozilla haven’t publicly disclosed many details of their deal, but based on Mozilla’s own vague statements, it was worth an estimated $85 million in revenue last year.

Specifically, Mozilla in October released its annual “State of Mozilla” report, acknowledging that it “has a contract with a search engine provider for royalties which expires November 2011. Approximately 84% and 86% of royalty revenue for 2010 and 2009, respectively, was derived from this contract.”

Tech writers weren’t optimistic about the deal being renewed this time around, especially in light of Mozilla’s move in September to partner with Google’s arch search-rival Microsoft for a special “Firefox with Bing,” in which Microsoft’s Bing replaces Google as the default search option in Firefox.

Of course, as important as the desktop browser wars are, the next frontier is mobile.

And when it comes to tablets and mobile phones, Apple’s Safari for iOS has a commanding lead with 54 percent of the market, followed by legacy mobile browser Java ME at 19.69 percent and then Android’s Webkit browser at 16.72 percent, according to tracking website NetMarketshare. Firefox for Android, to date Mozilla’s only true Firefox mobile offering, barely makes a blip, being grouped with the “other” category at just over 1 percent mobile market share.

Mozilla is aware of the titanic struggle it faces to compete in mobile browsing, and has expanded its mobile division from 20 to 250 people, according to BusinessWeek. But with mobile a much more proprietary platform, and with the rigid rules in place from Apple and Google, it remains to be seen how well Mozilla can compete in the arena.

Bing, Browsers, Google, Google Chrome, Microsoft, Mozilla Firefox
Carl Franzen

Carl Franzen is TPM Idea Lab’s tech reporter. He used to work for The Daily, AOL and The Atlantic Wire (though not simultaneously, thankfully). He’s never met a button that didn’t need to be pressed. He can be reached at carl@talkingpointsmemo.com.