Firefox hits 500 million, yet can't get a break on mobile phones

Why are cellular providers so stingy with software on their phones?

Mozilla's Firefox browser is truly one of the grand success stories of open source. This week Mozilla is celebrating 500 million Firefox downloads. Yet for all its success, it can't seem to crack the mobile wall, which is almost shameful given the innovation and competition it has sparked on the desktop:

One reason this walled garden approach benefits cellular operators is that they get paid both by subscribers and by content providers. With open Internet access, only subscribers pay. Another benefit is that their approach reduces use of limited 3G bandwidth, meaning carriers don't have to build a more robust network.

So, because mobile Firefox might benefit customers more than cellular providers, it's shackled. At least we can safely say this has nothing to do with a fear of open source. Rather, it's a fear of customers getting value, which the carriers spread to all software providers, open source or not.

Bozos.

I guess the big question is whether the cellular providers can hope to make more money with open access than with closed access. I'd like to think that open wins in the end, but it may require the cellular providers to change their business models a bit or they risk becoming the "dumb pipes" that broadband providers have become.

It should be noted that these, too, have an opportunity in open access. I continue to believe that broadband providers (like their cellular cousins) could be collecting ASCAP-type royalties for each broadband provider, then passing on a portion of these fees to the entertainment industry (or other industries that are losing money to free content).

So perhaps Mozilla could take a percentage of fees for Google search placement (as it does now), and then shares those fees between itself and the carrier? Or maybe it enables mobile ads and shares those fees? Etc.

More adoption should be a good thing. More use should be a good thing. Only the cellular world wants its customers to use less of its service (but pay more)....

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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