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Mozilla chairman unfazed by Google Chrome

q&a Google gave Mitchell Baker's Mozilla Foundation $75 million through a Firefox search deal, but she doesn't see Chrome as a threat to that revenue.

Things just got a lot more complicated for Mitchell Baker, the Mozilla Foundation's chairman and "chief lizard wrangler."

Gone are the days when Microsoft's Internet Explorer was the sole rival for Mozilla's Firefox. A new open-source browser, Google Chrome, has come to town, and it's from the company that provided $66 million of the Mozilla Foundation's $75 million in 2007 revenue.

Mozilla Foundation Chairman Mitchell Baker
Mozilla Foundation Chairman Mitchell Baker Mozilla

There are other browser alternatives--Opera and Safari, for example--but Chrome is likely to catch on with the same techno-savvy, early-adopter, Google-proficient crowd that's been so passionate about Firefox. Baker, though, isn't worried.

For one thing, she argues, Mozilla gets its Google revenue from shared advertising revenue generated when people use Mozilla's built-in Google search abilities. In other words, Mozilla is just another advertising partner--a status Google was willing to extend to a far greater competitor, Yahoo, though, of course, Google backed away from that deal when threatened with a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit.

For another, she doesn't feel threatened by Chrome's market share. That's not to say she's complacent about it, though. I asked her opinion about Google, Chrome, the new HTML version 5, the future of the Web, and other matters on Tuesday. Here's an edited transcript of our chat.

Q: Mozilla pulled in $75 million in 2007. How significant is that figure?
Baker: It's a significant number to us. It's about what we expected. We're happy with it. It's an amount of money that allows us to be sustainable, plus has some savings. And it's generated in way that allows us flexibility and freedom.

It's only a 12 percent increase over Mozilla's 2006 revenue, which had grown faster. Surely, there are more users doing more searches. Why is the growth rate tapering off?
Baker: As in many cases, there's (effectively) a discount with bulk and volume. With volume, you often get paid less per unit. The revenue per search isn't linear.

Mozilla gets paid by Google for the browser search box and the start page, both of which default to Google, correct?
Baker: That's correct. But the one thing most people forget is, we have an arrangement not just with Google but also with Yahoo. The combination of Google's market share and the default piece means the vast majority (of Mozilla revenue) comes from Google. We also get a small amount of revenue from Amazon.

Is the revenue based on Firefox downloads? Search queries?
Baker: It's analogous to what you see on Web sites with Google AdSense (in which other sites show Google ads, and Google shares the resulting revenue when people click on those ads). It's a mechanism for ad distribution.

So Mozilla is funded by ad revenue?
Baker: That's right. It's not the AdSense program, but it's from ad revenue.

Are you concerned the revenue will dry up, now that Google has Chrome?
Baker: We're careful, and we watch. But are we particularly worried? No. We expect Chrome to have some amount of market share, but we don't expect it to balloon. Our market share continues to grow, and we expect it to be healthy. The relationship between Google and Mozilla is good, in a business sense, for both organizations.

What effect has Chrome had on Firefox development?
Baker: It hasn't changed the way we work--our open-source and community way. Google is full of very smart people and more resources than the rest of us could imagine. We expect to see interesting and innovative things come out of Google and Chrome. We hope so. Good ideas move around in the browser world. New things showing in Chrome can benefit all of us. One thing about Mozilla is, we do not have the not-invented-here syndrome.

Has it changed your thinking? Google has touted Chrome's JavaScript performance, for example. Has it lit a fire under your developers?
Baker: The JavaScript fire has been lit anyway. I'd say we've been increasing our focus on performance for some time. JavaScript performance...is equal or better than Chrome. We've seen an across-the-board change over the last six to eight months. That was in the works already.

There are some interesting things in Chrome. Everybody seems to have private-browsing features, so we will as well. We're not as convinced that this is as helpful, but it's certainly something that people are looking for.

Chrome has vanishing market share, compared to Internet Explorer. How do you view your competition with Microsoft?
Competition with Microsoft is a bit different. There's no question (that Internet Explorer) as a product is improving. Thank goodness. If 70 (percent) of the world were still using IE 6, it would be much worse world for all of us.

It still does not remotely approach Firefox as a product, and we don't expect IE to challenge Firefox supremacy as the technical innovator in the near-term time frame. We do hope to see IE standards compliance and its modern features improved. The single biggest problem now in moving the Web forward is having to deal with people using back versions of IE.

What are Mozilla's spending priorities in the future?
Baker: We have a few. The mobile space is one. Innovation is another--how to promote innovation that's not locked up in a single proprietary stack. We're not taking about giant amounts of money (but rather) experiments to find out what's important and interesting.

There are some educational and research initiatives on which we'll be increasing our focus in the next year. And there are some initiatives we're looking at in the (Mozilla) labs space. Synchronizing data, not just Foxmarks data (such as bookmarks and passwords) but other data as well. That could require investments. Also, there are technologies to move the Web forward. We're looking carefully at video.

Firefox 3.1 has support for the Ogg video format.
Baker: Exactly.

Is the time line to release Firefox 3.1 in early 2009?
Baker: Yes, that's our plan.

What comes after that?
Baker: We're looking at Fennec releases (a version of Firefox for mobile devices) and at some of the things coming out of Mozilla Labs, like synchronization of services. Will that end up as a project? Were not sure. We're also looking at Thunderbird (Mozilla's open-source e-mail software). Thunderbird 3 should be shipping in the first half of 2009, (bringing) add-ons and ecosystem opportunities there.

And, of course, there's more work on Firefox. The role of Firefox is to display the Web as the Web moves forward. We also think we're in the early stages of graphics and video, and what people do with it.

What do you think of HTML 5, the next version of the standard for displaying Web pages? Will it solve the world's problems?
Baker: We're eager to see it happen. It's certainly not the panacea miracle cure, but it's important. We've spent a lot of time trying to move beyond HTML 4. We have the same issues (as earlier HTML versions) of getting it implemented in browsers.

Because it's a large specification, it's likely that only portions will get implemented. What if some browser isn't going to implement something in HTML 5, what are we doing to do to move the Web forward?