How Google Can Deal a Death Blow to Firefox

Firefox's future has never been as uncertain as it is right now. Let's start with the market share numbers and work our way from there. Depending on which web analytics firm you put your faith into, Mozilla's browser has either given up it's second place position to Google's Chrome browser, or is really close to doing so. NetMarketShare, for example, has Firefox sitting on a 22.14 percent of the global market at the end of November 2011, down from 25.02 percent in December 2009 (which is as far back as NetMarketShare goes). Chrome, meanwhile, is nipping at Firefox's heels with an 18.18 percent share of the market, up considerably from just 4.71 percent in December 2009.

If you head on over to StatCounter, you'll see numbers that show Chrome overtaking Firefox globally for the first time. According to StatCounter, Chrome is the browser of choice 25.69 percent of the time, slightly above Firefox at 25.23 percent.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Browser Market Share

"We can look forward to a fascinating battle between Microsoft and Google as the pace of growth of Chrome suggests that it will become a real rival to Internet Explorer globally," commented Aodhan Cullen, CEO, StatCounter. "Our stats measure actual browser usage, not downloads, so while Chrome has been highly effective in ensuring downloads our stats show that people are actually using it to access the web also."

Notice that Firefox isn't even in the discussion. Big whoop, right?  After all, browsers are free, so does it even matter which browser claims the most market share, or second most? The answer is a resounding 'Yes,' and for two main reasons. First, there's the influence browser makers have over web standards, or the ability to blatantly ignore them. Consider Internet Explorer's dominant reign up to this point. IE isn't the most standards compliant browser available, nor is it the fastest or most feature rich. But after it took out Netscape Navigator, there wasn't any real competition left, and much of the web was written to comply with IE rather than the other way around. HTML5 is an attempt to right the ship, but as long as IE maintains its market share lead, programmers will continue to write software for IE.

The other reason market share matters is money. Browsers are free, advertising is not. Search companies pay big bucks to have their search engine featured as the default option, and this is where Firefox is in trouble. Can you guess where most of Mozilla's money comes from? It's through a search partnership with Google! Check out these numbers.

In 2010, Mozilla's revenue was $123 million, and 84 percent of it -- more than $103 million -- came from Google. Think about that for a moment. The vast majority of Mozilla's revenue comes from a competitor who's jockeying for position in the browser race.

In Mozilla's most recent financial statement (PDF), the browser maker won't even mention Google by name, but suggests the numbers are similar. Mozilla says it "has a contract with a search engine provider for royalties which expires November 2011. Approximately 84 percent and 86 percent of royalty revenue for 2010 and 2009, respectively, was derived from this contract."


The unnamed search engine provider is Google, and the sultan of search is now off the hook, if it wants to be. If Google wants to bury Firefox, or at least make things difficult for Mozilla, all it has to do is not renew its contract. It's hard to imagine Microsoft stepping in and saving the day with a Bing partnership, not when IE's lead continues to slip. So where does Mozilla go from here?

Good question, and one ZDNet's Ed Bott tried to have answered. Specifically, Mr. Bott asked Mozilla if it's in discussions with Google to renew its contract, and if not, are there any contingency plans in place.

"We believe that search providers will remain a solid generator of revenue for Mozilla for the foreseeable future," was all Mozilla responded with.

Mozilla can believe in Santa Claus too if it wants, but what happens when the fat man doesn't come down the chimney with a sack full of cash?