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Don't write off Mozilla-Google revenue deal as dead

A deal to share Firefox-driven search-ad revenue with Mozilla expired in November--but it's still in effect while the two organizations renegotiate.

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Mozilla and Google are renegotiating a deal by which Google shares ad revenue that results from searches the browser drives to its site.

The partnership, which Mozilla renewed in 2008 for three more year, was set to expire in November. With that deadline and a noncommittal comment from Mozilla, Ed Bott, who blogs at ZDNet, surmised in a headline: "Google deal apparently ends."

But apparently there's some wiggle room in the organizations' relationship and the Googlebucks are still making their way across Mountain View.

"We generally don't disclose specific terms of business agreements. We can confirm that we still have an agreement with Mozilla, but have nothing new to share at this time," Google said in a statement today to CNET News.

Mozilla added that the two are in negotiations:

Our search relationship with Google remains positive for both of us. We are in active negotiations and have nothing further to announce at this time. We have every confidence that search partnerships will continue to be a strong and growing generator of revenue for the foreseeable future.

Mozilla, although a nonprofit, needs money to operate. Google provides the lion's share of it--most of the Mozilla's $120 million in 2010 revenues, for example. Mozilla's statement about "search partnerships" leaves the door wide open for other search engines, but I'd be surprised if either party backs out.

With Chrome, Google of course has its own browser now, and clearly the company's competitive juices are flowing. But the overall objective of Chrome is to speed up the Web and improve it as a foundation for applications, not to squeeze other browsers off the Internet.

Mozilla is hedging its bets a little. Mozilla introduced Microsoft's Bing as a search-engine option with Firefox 4 earlier this year, and in October, Mozilla released a version of Firefox with Bing as the default search engine. Google remains king of the mountain for search, but such baby steps let Mozilla work out the kinks if it has to change.

Because, let's face it, Microsoft would love to have Firefox pointing its search traffic toward Bing. It's not clear how many people would change a Bing default setting back to Google, and if they did whether Google would continue to share search-ad revenue with Mozilla, but at a minimum, Mozilla has a little bargaining leverage here.

Chrome is gaining at Mozilla's expense in the fraction of browser usage, but even if Chrome edges out Firefox for second place, millions of people still will be using it. Does Google really want those people using Bing?