Most Firefox users don’t realize that Firefox’s current existence is owed almost exclusively to its search partnership with Google wherein Mozilla Corp receives a portion of ad revenue from Google queries initiated from Firefox’s search bar. This revenue amounts to tens of millions of dollars. Internet users the world over, who are currently reaping the benefit of a renewed browser war with exciting innovation instead of Microsoft-dominated stagnation, can thank Google for that state of affairs. But now that Google has itself entered the fray with Chrome, what does that mean for the Firefox/Google relationship?This, of course, was one of the first things that many people who are in the know thought about when they heard Google’s surprise Chrome announcement. In fact, there was a fair amount of hand-wringing among Firefox partisans and Open Source Software fans (since Firefox is arguably the most-visible face of OSS and on the front lines in the battle with Microsoft) that Chrome would harm Firefox or the Open Source movement. As people have settled in to either using or not using Chrome, a lot of the debate has died down. But the real issue isn’t some kind of nebulous issue of “fighting a war on two fronts” or chipping away at Firefox’s market share (since Chrome users are more likely to peel away from Firefox than IE), but a very simple case of economics.
In a recent Computerworld article, John Lilly, Mozilla’s CEO, says that the Chrome project has made Firefox’s relationship with Google “complicated,” but that the state of their partnership is “reasonable.” To the extent that Google’s shot across the bow of the browser world has spurred a renewed interest in advancing the state of the art, consumers will benefit. But what if Google decides to “be Evil?” They could easily opt not to renew their contract when it comes up in 2011, and in one fell swoop eviscerate Mozilla Corp. Now, this hardball tactic would possibly not benefit Google as much as it would benefit Microsoft, and might end up having a net negative effect on Google’s revenues. But it’s hard to say, and it all hinges on how central to Google’s business Chrome ends up being.
Here’s to hoping that Firefox and Google can find a way to co-exist happily, keep the foot on the gas, and force Microsoft to either improve IE or cede browser dominance. In that scenario, the free market works, and all internet users benefit.