Firefox is a wonderful piece of software. It single handedly saved us from Internet Explorer 6 when we no longer saw a light at the end of the tunnel. That was back in 2003, however in more recent times the browser has taken a back seat to Google's Chrome browser, which as we reported last week, has gone from an irrelevant 3% market share two years ago to about 25% and counting – this figure already matches (or nearly so) Firefox's worldwide usage, depending on who you're asking.
Google seems to have pulled an impossible feat by introducing a humble browser project that has taken away from Internet Explorer and Firefox, pushed Opera further down into oblivion, and made a better general use case than Apple's Safari which shares the same WebKit engine.
But there's more to it. As reminded by ZDNet's Ed Bott, Mozilla and the continued development of Firefox is heavily dependent on revenues derived from the Google Toolbar that is built-in the browser. Official numbers released by Mozilla indicate that over 80% of the company's income in 2009 and 2010 came from the Google partnership (approximately $100 million each year).
Furthermore, the Firefox-Google deal was up for renewal this last November. There are a few different interesting angles and directions this could take. First of all, if Google decides to renew the deal, will they offer the same amount or will they use Chrome's increasing market share as leverage to cut down on a competitor? (as we are once again reminded of Google's infamous "don't be evil" motto). If they decide to let go, we are ready to bet Microsoft is willing to stretch their losses on Bing and become Mozilla's new favorite company – regardless of Internet Explorer. Coincidentally, Firefox began offering a "Firefox with Bing" at the end of October.
Good old Firefox showing Google's search tool on the right.
Then there's mobile. Firefox has been unable to make a dent on the growing smartphone world where all of its competitors seem to dominate at least one portion of the pie: Safari on iOS, Chrome on Android, Opera Mini operates across different platforms with mild to medium success, and Microsoft is making strides for making IE the browser of choice on Windows Phone and eventually on tablets when Windows 8 arrives.
Does this spell an eventual death for Firefox? They sure have lagged on the mobile front, and for a while were very slow to react to Chrome, though a few months later (and subsequent releases fixing speed) I keep using it as my primary desktop browser.
But the bigger question is about funding and the long term. If not Google, will Microsoft come to the rescue? And for the sake of the argument, how about other potentially interested parties? Facebook and Amazon are two other obvious names that could be added to the mix considering Firefox still reaches 25% of the entire Internet.