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Is Firefox About to Burn Out?

9 December 2011 by Alice Cullen

Google Chrome has overtaken Mozilla’s Firefox as the second most popular internet browser, just as a crucial deal between the two companies is due for renewal.

In the three years since its launch Chrome’s market share has grown to 26.76% giving it the edge over Firefox’s current 25.49% share. The tech media have since been a flurry of damning headlines and condemning stories bringing doomsday to the Mozilla browser. What is much more concerning is not the market share.

Figures by web analytics firm StatCounter, show that Firefox’s market share has actually stayed quite steady since Chrome’s 2008 launch; from around 26.14% at the time of the Chrome launch to a peak of almost 32% in January 2010 and back to a level of 25.49% now. Whereas Microsoft’s Internet Explorer – the top dog in browsers since, well, forever, has seen a sharp decline in market share over the same period.

So Chrome’s gain has largely been Microsoft’s loss, rather than Mozilla’s.

The big snag for Firefox is their uncertain future with Google. Mozilla has maintained a five-year relationship with the search-giants, feeding them search users in a deal that generated around 80% of The Mozilla Foundation’s revenue last year.

This search referral deal was up for renewal in November and so far an agreement has not been made, prompting many to suspect a lengthy rebalancing of their financial relationship is in the pipeline.

A spokesperson for Mozilla told PCPro that the Google negotiations are still in progress: “We currently have partnerships with a number of search providers that differ by market, including major search partners including Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Amazon, eBay and others.”

“Our search relationship with Google remains positive for both of us. We are in active negotiations and have nothing further to announce at this time,” Mozilla said. “We have every confidence that search partnerships will continue to be a strong and growing generator of revenue for the foreseeable future.”

Should the renewal talks between the two companies fall through, a potentially strategic move from Google could see the foundation – and, not forgetting, one of Google Chrome’s main rivals – left without the bulk of its revenue.

Superhero rescues for Firefox could emerge in the shape of a lucrative deal expanding their smaller relationship with Microsoft’s Bing, or any of their other current search partners.

What is quite clear is that Mozilla is worried; the company has just released a short video entitled ‘The Mozilla Story’ reminding users of the organization’s roots as a community project and the importance of Firefox as an open-source Web browser backed by a non-profit organization.

One thing is for sure, it would be a real shame to lose an organisation that is so dedicated to creating a ‘better internet’ when so many large companies are focused on the commercial potential of innovations rather than their impact.

Watch ‘The Mozilla Story‘.