Firefox maker Mozilla: We don't need Google's money anymore

The organization once banked on the millions that Google paid for search traffic from the Firefox browser. Now it relies on Yahoo, Baidu and others, and it expects revenue to grow.

The Firefox browser once had a tight bond with Google. Today, not so much.

Mozilla

Mozilla is doing just fine without the millions of dollars it once pulled in from Google.

The developer behind the widely used Firefox browser said Wednesday that it no longer relies on Google for its revenue and is confident new search-engine deals will bring in even more money. For years, Google in effect sponsored Mozilla by paying for Web searches launched through Firefox.

In 2014, that deal accounted for most of the nonprofit organization's $330 million in revenue, according to financial results just now released for that year.

Mozilla, based in Mountain View, California, ditched the global Google deal at the end of last year, moving instead to regional deals with other search engine companies, notably Yahoo in the United States, Baidu in China and Yandex in Russia.

Now, Mozilla gets no revenue at all from Google, even though Google is still the default search engine for Firefox users in Europe, said Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla's chief business and legal officer.

"We don't have a commercial relationship with Google at this point," she said. Mozilla is leaving money on the table at the moment, she confirmed, but the approach gives Mozilla flexibility. "It goes back to our strategy of how we can encourage more competition."

Mozilla's revenue has risen dramatically since the release of Firefox 1.0 in 2004.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

For Mozilla, more competition means giving consumers more choices when they access information and services online. The online world has pushed beyond the PC, though, expanding to mobile experiences tightly controlled by companies like Apple and Google.

A self-reliant Mozilla would help make it harder for those giants to abuse their positions of power by, for example, skewing search results in their own favor or blocking access to content from rivals.

Google and Mozilla often are allies, each seeking to make the Web better for activities like e-commerce, blogging, social networking, news publishing and communication. But the tight financial relationship also was unusual given how often Google was at odds with Mozilla's mission to ensure people have choices in their online activities. Google maintains tight control over its Android smartphone software and its many linked services such as Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Google Music and Google Docs.

Rising revenue, cash in the bank

Mozilla is holding its own financially and expects to keep doing so without Google's money. Its revenue for 2014, just disclosed in a tax filing, came in at $330 million, up from $314 million in 2013. Chief Financial Officer Jim Cook indicated that the current year's figure will be even better, given Mozilla's new, "very strong" search deals.

"We really look forward to displaying our results next year," Cook said. "2015 will show our continued track record of really strong financial results."

Google declined to comment.

Mozilla is a nonprofit organization that doesn't operate like Google, Microsoft and Apple, its biggest competitors in the browser market. But Mozilla does pay attention to keeping the lights on and recruiting talent. It had about $270 million in cash and cash equivalents at the end of 2014, a $20 million increase from a year earlier, Cook said. Mozilla employs about 1,000 people worldwide now, boosted by the work of more than 10,000 volunteers, he added.

Mozilla's search-related income is based a combination of fixed payments and revenue that depends on the traffic that Firefox generates, Dixon-Thayer said.

Firefox OS strategy shift

In the smartphone realm, Mozilla has been trying to combat the dominance of Google's Android and Apple's competing iOS with its own mobile operating system, Firefox OS. Mozilla's strategy had been to spread the software to lower-end phones in developing markets that hadn't yet undergone the smartphone revolution. But Chris Beard, who took over as Mozilla's chief executive in 2014, concluded earlier this year that the plan wasn't working. The new mobile goal is to spread Firefox OS to enthusiasts. Now, Android phone users can install a version that runs as an Android app or, for those feeling more experimental, completely replace Android with Firefox OS.

"We're going where the users are going," Dixon-Thayer said. That effort also includes a version of Firefox for Android phones and, as of two weeks ago, Firefox for Apple's iOS. Because of Apple's rules, though, Firefox for iOS is built with Apple's browser technology at the core, which means Mozilla can't use it to advance the Web standards it believes are important.

Mozilla has been saying for years that it's trying to boost its mobile efforts, but it hasn't had much to show. On smartphones, its share of browser usage is virtually nonexistent, according to analytics firm Statcounter. Firefox OS is equally absent among mobile operating systems.

Mozilla has helped advance Web technology for mobile devices, though. Even if that doesn't necessarily directly help Firefox, the tech can aid the Web itself when other browser makers embrace the standards.

Despite challenges, Mozilla remains committed to its core mission.

"There is a tremendous opportunity still to give control back to the user as they surf the Web and interact with apps," Cook said. Even if people don't seem to fret about the degree of control Apple and Google exercise over them today, that can change, as it did a decade ago when Firefox showed the world there was a desirable alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

"If you look back at 2003 or 2004, people didn't care about IE -- until they did," he said.

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