In response to the news that Google (GOOG) is releasing its own browser, code-named Chrome, I decide to call John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla, the folks behind the fast-growing Firefox browser. My intention was to find out what Lilly thought about this development, especially since Mozilla has been viewed as a close personal partner of Google's.
The open-source browser maker depends heavily on a lucrative financial deal it has signed with the search company. The pair recently renewed the deal to last through 2011. Was Lilly worried about yet another browser in the market?
After all, the emergence of Linux has had an equally deflationary impact on the UNIX market. Can a Google browser, promoted on Google homepage and pushed through Google's mobile OS, become a sticky wicket for Mozilla Firefox?
"We collaborate with them on a bunch of things, and we have a financial relationship," Lilly says. "So there is another browser, and that makes for a more competitive world. Of course we would have to compete."
Given that Microsoft (MSFT) still controls about 72% of the browser market, Google can't afford to leave that business to chance. Web is its business, and the browser is a necessary weapon for the company. "It is not surprising they are doing a browser. Google does many things (servers, energy) that touch their business," Lilly says. "They feel they can make a better browser by starting from scratch…advances in browsers are good."
Lilly points out that most of the other browser vendors—Microsoft, Apple (AAPL), and now Google—have other businesses and thus another agenda. For Mozilla, Firefox was the only thing. "Our only agenda is to make the Web better—it is our single mission," Lilly says. With more than 200 million users worldwide and a development team made up mostly of volunteers, Lilly says he isn't worried about Chrome just yet. "I really don't know how it will impact us," he says.
He is right to take a wait-and-see attitude. For one, browser market share doesn't change overnight. Google, despite its awesome reach, has a history of launching products that tend to lose steam. It has yet to hit home runs that rival its search and contextual advertising businesses.
Not having seen Chrome, I will withhold any final judgement myself, but I would look at the privacy implications of Chrome very, very carefully. I have long since stopped buying into the "do no evil" drivel the company keeps espousing.
This tussle between Mozilla and Google is going to get more gripping in coming years. Mozilla has a services strategy, Project Weave, that could eventually compete with Google's suite of services. Whatever it is, it seems Mozilla is ready for the challenge. And just when we thought the world of browsers was getting boring.