Wednesday Grok: Google is about to kill Firefox

Maybe Google should google "Antitrust and Microsoft"

When was the last time you even noticed which browser you used, and frankly why would you care? They all will pretty much get you from 01000001 to 01000010 on the Web as quick as you click.

It matters more if you manage your own nerd farm. If so, you will be familiar with the trouble involved getting your nerdlingers to care about how your shiny new website works on Internet Explorer. For you, Internet Explorer is the biggest browser in town, but for them it's a pig of a platform. Instead, the code monkeys all want to give it up for Mozilla's Firefox.

Now it seems Google may be about to break its infatuation with the Love and Sunshine browser. It appears increasingly likely that Google has pulled the plug on a licensing deal with Mozilla that will cost the open source browser about $100 million of its $123 million annual revenue.

According to the <i>Business Insider</i>, "The Mozilla Org is funded almost entirely by a toolbar deal with Google. The little Google search window you see at the top right corner of your Firefox browser is a paid product placement: For the past several years, Google has paid Mozilla something on the order of $1 per copy to have that window there. Last year, that Google search window accounted for 84 per cent of Mozilla's $123 million of revenue, or about $100 million. The Google-Mozilla search deal ended in November. There has been no update about whether it has been renegotiated."

On the one hand, welcome to the world of real things, Mozilla. And on the other hand.... This all has somewhat of an eerily familiar feel about it, from Grok's perspective. The Valley's new princes are behaving more like Microsoft during its gazillionaire moment every day, and the word "Antitrust" is just itching to jump off the page. But of course, this is nothing of the sort surely, since there's nothing wrong with Google turning off the drip. After all, it aspires to replace Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the dominant browser with its own Chrome, and it recently bumped Firefox into second place through perfectly normal competition.

But somewhere in that part of the cerebral memory chip that Grok long ago blasted into obsolescence, a little bell is ringing in alarm — not about browser-die-back as Grok prefers to use RockMelt which is the Greatest. Browser. Ever. Instead, all that tiny little voice wants to talk about is corporate behaviour and market power. And as Wikipedia reminds us, Joe Klein's 1998 prosecution of Microsoft under the Sherman Antitrust Act revolved around bundling and browsers. "Bundling them together [Windows and Internet Explorer] is alleged to have been responsible for Microsoft's victory in the browser wars as every Windows user had a copy of Internet Explorer."

After a soap opera lasting three years, Microsoft finally settled with the government in 2001. Skip forward down the time tunnel a decade. Grok's sense is that bundling browsing with a monopolistic position in search feels just a little bit...evil, more so when it’s achieved by a brutal assassination. The missing piece of course is the behavior of Google's developers and their treatment of rival platforms. That is what brought Microsoft undone 10 years ago. It's a topic that may warrant further investigation.

Not everyone accepts anarchy's browser is finished

<i>PCWorld's</i>, Katherine Noyes offers three reasons why she thinks it's too soon for a Firefox requiem; (1) it's history of innovation, (2) a strong developer community with a strong sense of ownership, or as the author puts it – it’s “driven by users”, and finally (3) no evidence of weakness in the product improvement pipeline. OK, technically you might argue that's only two reasons since one and three are basically the same.

Andrew Birmingham is the CEO of Silicon Gully Investments. He currently jumps between Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and RockMelt (Go RockMelt!) Follow him on Twitter @ag_birmingham

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