Firefox turns 400 million; looking to Eclipse for where to go next

Mozilla has done an exceptional job of growing the user base of Firefox. It should become more like Eclipse to ensure the next decade of growth and utility.

Mozilla

Most open-source projects would be ecstatic for even a fraction of the kind of growth that Mozilla is reporting for Firefox. Consider this: 25 million downloads in the first 99 days; 100 million downloads in the first year; and 400 million in the first three years.

As Glyn Moody points out, the importance here is not in the sheer volume, but rather in the increasing volume. Firefox to date has doubled every year. Every single year.

So, what should Mozilla do with this?

I've argued before that Mozilla needs to embrace its capitalist urges, not shelve them. I still feel that way.

But I also believe that Mozilla needs to be extremely careful about how it goes about doing this. It needs to determine whether it wants to be like Eclipse, Apache, or Red Hat, and hire an executive director accordingly. Of the three (I'm sure there are other options, too), I would suggest Mozilla's best bet is to go the Eclipse route.

What would an Eclipse-like Mozilla be? Much the same, except with the express goal to help member companies and member developers use Firefox (and other Mozilla properties) as a foundation for their development, with an explicit nod to commercial development. This is one reason that Eclipse is so successful, as Mike Milinkovich of Eclipse indicated in these pages :

The interesting wrinkle about Eclipse from a business perspective is that it's in our DNA to care deeply about commercial adoption of the technology. It's not a side effect of what we do--it is what we do. I can't think of another open-source organization with the same mission and system for achieving that mission....

We've come up with a way to help multiple companies--including direct competitors--to work together on a level playing field to build next-generation platforms and then compete with the applications they build on top of this platform. In other words, they use Eclipse to collaborate on a platform and then compete on the products that run on the platform.

Eclipse, of course, benefits far more than commercial developers. But that's the point: by assisting commercial entities to build on top of it, Eclipse paves the way for all sorts of third-party benefits. The same could apply to Firefox, which is the foundation for the 21st century enterprise. A huge amount of important "software" will be written to run in a browser, with Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox the two primary platforms.

Rather than just sit and hope that this will happen, Mozilla could take an active role in ensuring its primacy--its dominance--as a web development and deployment platform. This is Mozilla's battle to lose at this point. Its greatest chance of winning comes from recognizing the commercial opportunities that others want to build on top of Firefox, and facilitating those.

Or it could just sell to Google, which would ensure commercialization of Firefox, but probably in too narrow a fashion to be generally useful.

Be like Eclipse, Mozilla. We'll all be better off if you do.

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Tech Culture
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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