The Truth about Mozilla

The Google Browser

Posted in Mozilla by The Lizard on February 25, 2008

[Editor’s note: This post isn’t in the same style you’ve grown accustomed to from the Lizard. Given the topic at hand, the Lizard believes it is important that this post detail past events as well as the reasoning behind them. This is the post you can tell your grandkids about.]

A long-time Mozilla contributor emailed the Lizard back in November and posed:

If you really want to dig up some dirt, find out what happened between Google and Mozilla. Inquiring minds want to know.

The world has long assumed that the Google team working on Firefox simply moved off to another project. That assumption is true. The real question is: What project are they working on?

From the title of this post, you now know.

It was September 2006 when Mozilla Corporation CTO Brendan Eich removed Ben Matthew Goodger as owner of the Firefox project and placed Mike Connor at the helm. Goodger was first demoted to “peer” status, and from there he officially removed himself from all leadership positions throughout the Mozilla project. (Those outside of Mozilla should know that the project has a hierarchy for managing and running various parts, or modules, of its codebase. “Module owners” have final say over what features and bug fixes go into their module and provide leadership in determining the future of the code. “Peers” are secondary to owners but know the module well enough to make decisions about what code should be accepted.)

Goodger wasn’t the only one to leave, however. Long-time Mozilla contributors Brian Ryner and Darin Fisher, as well as Pam Greene, Brett Wilson, Peter Kasting, Tony Chang, Annie Sullivan, and others also removed themselves almost completely from the Mozilla project, though some would continue to participate through the launch of Firefox 2.

Months prior, Goodger, one of the original Firefox creators (alongside Dave Hyatt, Blake Ross, Joe Hewitt, and Asa Dotzler) and its long-time lead, had left the Mozilla Foundation to work for Google, charged with building a team that would contribute strongly to Firefox. As transitions in the Mozilla world go, it was a fairly clean and prosperous one for both parties involved. In one fell swoop, the Firefox project gained several new, competent developers (Google developers are some of the best in the world and were even more so in 2006) who proved critical to the success of Firefox 2. Meanwhile, Google worked the profitable end of the transition, furthering its message of openness and “no evil” while making mountains of cash off its position as the default option in the Firefox search bar and as the only option on the start page. The almost immediate success of Firefox 2 helped the Mozilla Corporation solidify a 2-year multi-million dollar deal (in total, over $60 million a year) with Google which would help it continue operations through, at the least, November 2008.

Why then, all things being beneficial to both parties, would Google pull its team off of Firefox?

Consider this: Since its inception, Firefox has pushed billions of search queries to Google, from which billions of dollars have been made. Not millions, billions.

As companies go, Google’s not a particularly evil one. Supporting open source in so many aspects of its business is a wonderful, non-evil thing. However, continuing to support Firefox fully would mean further reliance on Mozilla’s not screwing up a good thing. That is, Google needs Mozilla to keep making the right decisions as the browser maker grows its business. On the other hand, this same growth gives Mozilla a reason to start requesting a larger piece of the pie – and with reason.

As Firefox continues to grow – its market share is around 20% worldwide – Google keeps getting a better deal. For merely a few million a month, Google’s market share in the search and advertising industries has the ability to grow leaps and bounds and generate a five- to ten-fold return on investment. A win for Firefox is a win for Google … until Mozilla gets greedy.

Betting any large percentage of your business on one single entity is never a good idea. Once that entity desires more money and threatens to go elsewhere, your business starts hurting substantially. Even more importantly, once another browser, which you control even less, appears and begins to threaten Firefox growth, it’s time to start thinking about why your business isn’t fully under your control in the first place.

And so, in mid-2006, after several months of semi-serious internal discussion, the skunkworks project known simply as GBrowser was officially but quietly launched inside Google. It wasn’t until after that September divorce that the pace really sped up, however.

But what, really, is GBrowser? Simple Firefox customisations? No, friends, it’s much more than that.

The much-rumoured Google Browser is a complete browser built on top of WebKit. More than that, it will offer integration with many Google services, such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Blogger, and likely Google Talk.

The GBrowser team was smart in staying clear of the aging and fragile Mozilla technology. They looked for a streamlined rendering engine that would be easy to work with. It wasn’t hard to find Apple nearby, working on WebKit. In fact, Goodger was still in close contact with Dave Hyatt, who is one of WebKit’s initial developers and an Apple employee.

Rumblings of a Google browser have been carpeting the web for years, but it wasn’t until 2006 that an entire team was actually committed to working on what will become GBrowser.

Google, always known for iterating slowly on most of its projects, has taken its time on GBrowser for a very good reason: it only has one chance to get it right. Failing to succeed in its browser move means rocky negotiations with a core partner, Mozilla, and could negatively impact its financials in a significant manner. A move into the browser market requires perfection, and GBrowser has undergone at least one substantial rewrite and many major user-interface iterations.

The GBrowser team and Google leadership have also done well at keeping this project quiet internally. If screenshots or mockups leak from this project, it could threaten the relationship Google has built with several partners as well as lower the company’s credibility with its own employees as a supporter of open source software. No, this project must be developed “right” so that others can truly grasp the need for an all-new browser.

When will GBrowser launch? No one knows for certain, including the team itself. The internal target is an initial alpha/beta quality release this summer or fall.

The one point that hasn’t been mentioned yet is, quite possibly, the most important. Mozilla knows GBrowser is coming and discusses it at length internally. Mozilla employees, reasonably, believe that Google’s proven inability to create solid, popular desktop software will hinder the search giant and its play in the browser market. But most of these obstacles can be overcome with a leader who knows full well what he’s doing, having done the same thing with Firefox; Google’s hiring of Goodger in 2006 now seems like a prescient move.

While the importance and potential success of GBrowser are continually downplayed internally at Mozilla, the Lizard believes our new overlord, John Lilly, does not underestimate what Google can do.

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34 Responses

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  1. [...] acordo com Lizard, do blog “The Truth About Mozilla” em seu artigo entitulado “The Google Browser“, o aguardado GBrowser poderá utilizar a tecnologia do navegador de código aberto WebKit, [...]

  2. [...] also mentioned rumors of a Google Browser from [...]

  3. Google Browser coming soon? said, on June 16, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    [...] To read more, click here [...]

  4. [...] No Comments There have been persistent – and reasonably credible – rumors that Google was going to release its own browser. Now, thanks to Google Blogoscoped, we have some additional evidence: a 38-page comic book sent out [...]

  5. Riff said, on September 1, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    http://blogoscoped.com/archive/2008-09-01-n47.html

    Grats :)

  6. Danny said, on September 2, 2008 at 12:51 am

    yes thats also true. Google has not been reliable in desktop products becas its too much google search engine based.

  7. Farhan said, on September 2, 2008 at 1:39 am

    Its very interesting that Google has decided to take on a project like this. They obviously have such an interest in how people access the web, it was only a matter of time before they took things into their own hands. It is going to be very interesting to see how this pans out.

    Google Chrome link
    http://www.tonesall.com/news-media/download-google-chrome-browser-now-100-free.html

  8. [...] un po’ di tempo si rumoreggiava su un fantomatico Google Browser, in preparazione nei laboratori di Google – anche se proprio nei [...]

  9. moo said, on September 2, 2008 at 2:59 am

    +1000 accurate prediction points to you, sir.

  10. [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  11. [...] had it for quite some time that google was playing dirty at Mozilla. The new launch of browser proved that those rumors were not just rumors..there was some truth to [...]

  12. [...] the comic announces Google Chrome to be:Google Chrome is Googles open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of Google Browser, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  13. François said, on September 2, 2008 at 7:17 am

    Sept 2, 2008 : it’s out !

    you where right

    Just one thing : Dave Hyatt worked on Phoenix too, no ? (before going to Apple and using khtml to make webkit).

  14. [...] trouvera ici un billet très bien informé sur le sujet de Google Chrome et qui date de Février 2008. On y apprend qu’une bonne partie des développeurs [...]

  15. [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  16. Google Chrome - Paranormalis Forums said, on September 2, 2008 at 9:50 am

    [...] key points that set this browser apart: Google Chrome is Googles open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of Google Browser, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  17. Google Chrome | i-arts.eu said, on September 2, 2008 at 10:41 am

    [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  18. Open Source mobile edition said, on September 2, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    [...] story today, painting it as a threat to or rejection of Firefox. It’s not. While it’s true Google pulled its developers off Firefox in 2006, the resulting code is open source. Google felt it had to go to a clean sheet of [...]

  19. [...] Read the rest of the post, The Google Browser [...]

  20. [...] Ignoring the incestuous and dubious use of a fellow reporter’s speculation as a source for an article, the idea that the Google would want much (if any) of the Firefox team (or vice versa) after shunning their rendering engine, replacing their adopted code base’s JavaScript engine, and re-doing the entire visual and end-user experience from-scratch with completely different technology (i.e., not XUL) is deeply un-credible. Good sourcing might have fleshed out the idea, but alas, that seems far too much for ZDNet to produce on deadline. I mean, it’s not like they cover technology for a living…gosh, I bet they’d be embarrassed then. Quick tip for the next time they want to write this story: Google just became “Google’s browser labs” after giving Mozilla a good long run at it. [...]

  21. [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  22. [...] arena became something more. Since early this year, there’s been talk of a forthcoming Google Browser. Now it’s here and it’s called Google Chrome. It’s an open source browser project [...]

  23. Oh so shiny! — playing the QWERTY piano said, on September 3, 2008 at 7:41 am

    [...] the prediction turned out to be true after all. But it appears that there was earlier news of it which was more or less a sure shot indication of what was to [...]

  24. [...] Chrome ist open source. Wie schon länger gemunkelt wurde wurde Chrome auf der Rendering Engine Webkit gebaut, die ja schon von Safari bekannt ist. [...]

  25. cRap » The Chrome Comic Book said, on September 3, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project.As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine [...]

  26. [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  27. [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  28. chirax said, on September 5, 2008 at 12:24 am

    Good Article. Did not know the background story. Thanks again

  29. [...] (firmato Scott McCloud) che si preoccupava di sviscerare il nuovo progetto a cui Google ha lavorato quasi in segreto nel corso degli ultimi mesi. Google Chrome è un browser open source basato sull’engine di [...]

  30. [...] book (signed by Scott McCloud) that cared to examine the new project on which Google has worked almost secretly during the last months. Google Chrome is an open source browser based on the Webkit rendering [...]

  31. [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project.As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine [...]

  32. [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  33. [...] Chrome is Google’s open source browser project. As rumored before under the name of “Google Browser”, this will be based on the existing rendering engine Webkit. [...]

  34. Vini said, on January 26, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Oh yeah. Google has not been reliable in desktop products because its too much google based.


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