Mozilla revenue jump fuels its Firefox overhaul plan
The nonprofit pulled in more than a half billion dollars. Now it's spending it on making Firefox worth using again.
Stephen Shanklandprincipal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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I've been covering the technology industry for 24 years and was a science writer for five years before that. I've got deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and other dee
Well, now we know what paid for all those programmers cranking out the overhauled
Quantum browser: a major infusion of new money.
Mozilla, the nonprofit behind the open-source web browser, saw its 2016 revenue increase 24 percent to an all-time high of $520 million, it said Friday. Expenses grew too, but not as much, from $361 million to $337 million, so the organization's war chest is significantly bigger now. Mozilla, which now has about 1,200 employees, releases prior-year financial results in conjunction with tax filings.
Most of Mozilla's money comes from partnerships with search engines like
, DuckDuckGo, Baidu and Yandex. When you search through Firefox's address bar, those search engines show search ads alongside results and share a portion of the revenue to Mozilla. Mozilla in 2014 signed a major five-year deal with Yahoo to be the default search engine in the US, but canceled it only three years in and moved back to Google instead in November.
Mozilla's mission -- to keep the internet open and a place where you aren't in the thrall of tech giants -- may seem abstract. But Mozilla succeeded in breaking the lock Microsoft's Internet Explorer had on the web a decade ago, and now it's fighting the same battle again against Google's Chrome.
All this is why Mozilla poured resources into overhauling Firefox, an effort that culminated in this month's release of version 57, also called Firefox Quantum. The browser is faster, and performance improvements leading up to it helped stop Firefox users from defecting to other browsers, Mozilla has said.
Terms of the new search deal with Google aren't yet clear, but Denelle Dixon, Mozilla's chief legal and business officer, said the organization is doing fine. "We are confident in the future of Mozilla and have structured our commercial relationships in way that positions us for continued growth and success," she said.
Firefox continued to decline through October on personal computers as a fraction of website usage, according to Web analytics company StatCounter. But there are glimmers of hope, too: NetApplications' NetMarketShare service, which measure the number of people using browsers instead of the number of pages viewed, showed a Firefox uptick in October to 13 percent of PC browser usage.
Watch this: Top 5 best features in the new Firefox
Mozilla still has a long way to go with mobile users, though, where Google's Chrome and
Safari dominate and Firefox is a rarity.
Mozilla is spending money there, though. It's investing in Firefox for
powered by Google's Android and Apple's
software, including a privacy-centric variant called Focus and speed improvements transferred from Firefox Quantum. And in 2017, Mozilla acquired Pocket, a service that lets you save websites and that's used by about 10 million people each month on mobile devices.
First published Dec. 1, 9 a.m. PT. Update, 11:15 a.m.: Notes that Groupon later clarified its Firefox stance, saying it supports all major browsers.