[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.
The Lizard has been given an internal document that outlines the Mozilla Corporation’s goals for the summer of 2008. It’s an interesting read, so I’m publishing the document, as received, below.
With exclusives that should require validation, Mozilla’s press department is always emailed and asked for a statement. Those emails have been ignored. The Chris Blizzard exclusive has now been validated. It is the Lizard’s hope that Mozilla’s press department will start taking notice of this blog and providing proper responses just as they do for other press organizations. Moving right along…
The sweet Virgin Mary hopes that these goals weren’t written with the expectation of being hit.
1. Make the Mozilla project a centerpiece of the Internet
What a laugh. How does one create a metric for being a “centerpiece of the Internet”? A target of 30% marketshare could be seen as achieving this goal, which is probably why goal number two exists:
2. Increase Firefox usage to 30% of global browser usage
Does anyone at Mozilla believe there’s a chance in hell that 30% marketshare is achievable? How is Mozilla doing at that? September 2007 stats put Firefox at ~15% worldwide marketshare. That’s close… half way even! Will they hit those goals by this coming summer? Maybe in some dream world where pixies run free with rabbits and kneel to sacrificed virgins on altars of insanity. Mozilla has deluded itself into thinking it can do the impossible… but it might work.
3. Diversify browsing focus beyond Firefox
Goal 3 is another failed effort. The only extension pack that Mozilla has released is Firefox Campus Edition, which was an utter failure (see the full document for context). It’s our understanding that even the campus reps – whom Mozilla has brought on to promote Firefox on school campuses – hated the special edition.
Has anyone heard of “.moz”? Why would Mozilla want to enter the online services business? Partnering with experienced services providers makes far more sense (friends at Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and others would be glad to help).
Mozilla Labs has had two visible successes: Coop and Joey. Coop died off shortly after receiving press. Joey is a worthless experiment with only a few users. Apparently it was created to give the one internal mobile person something to do. Mozilla has never believed in mobile. (Editor’s note: Until a little over a week ago. A new post is coming on that subject.)
This document makes it ever-the-more clear that those inside Mozilla are deluded and have no idea what they’re doing. Setting unreasonable goals isn’t the way to run a company unless you want to run it into the ground. (more…)
The Lizard has noticed a small flurry of activity over the new “Powered by Mozilla” branding outlined by MoCo Creative Director John Slater. Mozpad front-company AllPeers gets in the fray here, but the real rumbling comes from Editor/Composer guru Daniel Glazman. Ever the contrarian, Glazman argued that MoCo’s got it all wrong, namely that the brand to emphasize is “Firefox,” not “Mozilla.”
Glazman’s got a point. Well, sort of. Right now, Firefox has the name recognition, but haven’t we all been down this (myopic) road before? Anyone remember something called Netscape? Or Navigator and Communicator? Remember how Netscape died about 2001 (Netscape 9 be damned)? Remember how long it took for the new darling du jour, a little thing called
mozilla/browserPhoenixFire birdfox, to get the name recognition that enabled it to get access to websites “designed for Netscape” and be accepted on the web? Oh, sorry, you all were in diapers for that? Fear not, for the Lizard was there, and the Lizard remembers. Have you noticed, even after all this time, that there are still a host of big sites—often corporate and financial—that want Netscape or *cough* IE *cough* and act like darling Firefox doesn’t even exist?
“All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again.”
The dark, dirty flip side of Glazman’s argument is that by emphasizing Firefox as the “platform” branding for Mozilla technology, other apps become accessories in forever relegating themselves to second- or third-class citizens in the Mozilla world. Instead of emphasizing the technology and the long-term viability of a platform or toolkit for developing powerful and cool apps, favoring the “darling of the moment” is short-sighted and ultimately helps constrict the app space back to just the darling app.
What happens when the flavor of the month is no longer Firefox? (Don’t think that’ll ever happen? You’re smoking some good shit there.) The Mozilla world is back to square zero. Mozilla’s still there (this crazy-cool toolkit has more lives than Schrödinger’s cat), but we gotta find a new champion, gotta get said champion embedded in everyone’s brains, and gotta promote the crap out of it. Then the new darling becomes a useful flag to wave over all the vassal apps out there in Mozillaland, as they try to gain notice (“Hey, I’m MozDarlingDuJour’s bitch; use me!”).
“All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again.”
Still not convinced Glazman’s barking up the wrong tree? Let’s take his suggestion to the logical end (well, maybe logical isn’t the best word, though it’s accurate. How about “absurd” instead?). Can you imagine other Mozilla/Gecko-based web browsers wanting to slap a “Powered by Firefox” banner across their site or product? The Lizard can see it now:
“SeaMonkey, powered by Firefox”
Ring! Who’s that? My good ol’ buddy KaiRo on the line? He’s sayin’ “Du hast den Arsch offen!” Yeah, that’s more like it.
The best thing for everyone would be for the darling du jour itself, Firefox (and its product pages on mozilla.com), to carry the “Powered by Mozilla” banner. That, in concert with the new banner appearing on other apps and their sites, would help build the Mozilla brand in a non-demeaning way. Everywhere people see the banner—all over this giant thing called the Web, because Mozilla is fucking everywhere—they could click on it and discover the vastness of the healthy Mozilla ecosystem (say, link the banner back to the proposed redesigned www.mozilla.org/projects or to some Mozilla evangelism website). Everyone gets the benefits from Firefox’s name recognition today, and we’re all spared having to slog through this morass again in the future when some other app is the darling of the Mozilla world.
For once, Mozilla Corp’s doing the right thing (well, aside from getting the wordmark color wrong).