Apple Auto-Update Installs Mozilla CEO Tirade
Back in 2005, word on the street had it that the Mozilla Foundation was making as much as $30 million annually from the Google search box in its open-source Firefox Web browser.
Turns out, that number probably wasn’t too far off. According to an independent auditor’s report, Mozilla made $66.8 million in revenue in 2006, quite a bit of it from Google (GOOG). As former Mozilla Corp. CEO Mitchell Baker explained in a post to MozillaZine:
As in 2005 the vast majority of this revenue is associated with the search functionality in Mozilla Firefox, and the majority of that is from Google. The Firefox user base and search revenue have both increased from 2005. Search revenue increased at a lesser rate than Firefox usage growth as the rate of payment declines with volume. Other revenue sources were the Mozilla Store, public support and interest and other income on our assets.”
But those “other revenue sources” are piddling in comparison to Google’s contribution, which apparently accounts for a full 85% ($56 million or so) of Mozilla’s revenues.
So it’s supremely ironic then to hear Mozilla CEO John Lilly criticize Apple (AAPL) for distributing its Safari browser for Windows and OS X through its Software Update utility. “What Apple is doing now with their Apple Software Update on Windows is wrong,” Lilly said in a blog post on Friday. “It undermines the trust relationship great companies have with their customers, and that’s bad–not just for Apple, but for the security of the whole Web. … Apple has made it incredibly easy– he default, even–for users to install ride-along software that they didn’t ask for, and maybe didn’t want. This is wrong, and borders on malware distribution practices. It’s wrong because it undermines the trust that we’re all trying to build with users. Because it means that an update isn’t just an update, but is maybe something more. Because it ultimately undermines the safety of users on the Web by eroding that relationship. It’s a bad practice and should stop.”
Now, Lilly may have a point. But he’s hardly the best guy to be making it. As ZDnet’s Larry Dignan notes, Safari–like Firefox–features a Google search box, for which the search giant also presumably pays a placement fee. A sudden gain in market share for Safari at Firefox’s expense could have financial implications for Mozilla. “Let’s say Safari grabs 10% market share and Firefox falls to about 25%,” Dignan writes. “That’s fewer searches and less revenue for Mozilla. Sure, you can argue about whether Apple’s Safari move is above the board. You can also question the security implications and a bevy of other issues. But in the end, Apple’s Safari update and Mozilla’s reaction is like any other story. To truly understand it you have to follow the money.”
UPDATE: John Lilly wrote to me earlier today with a few comments about this post. Here’s what he had to say:
Hi John –
Wanted to follow up on your post just now about us and Apple and Google.
Take this for whatever it’s worth, but revenue and market share didn’t enter my mind when I posted. At Mozilla we obviously care about having enough resources to keep the lights on and pay people, and we care about having enough market share–because it means that we’ve built products that people really care about.
But competition is good and healthy, and essential. Without competition we’d all be in a pretty bad world–sort of like AT&T in the bad old days.
I’ve got zero issues with Apple using their channel to distribute other products–I think that’s a perfectly fine thing for them to do. What I worry about is that users need to trust the security updates they get from their vendors–because if they don’t–if they think there’s an ulterior motive other than keeping software up-to-date–that’s a problem for everyone.
Anyway, I respect your right to write what you think and to be skeptical of the motives of folks like me, but I do say sincerely that in this case, revenue has nothing to do with it.”