Mozilla Foundation, the open source non-profit in charge of Firefox, stirred a lot of controversy Wednesday when they announced that they would be forming a new for-profit company. What is the Mozilla Corporation for, and does this compromise any of Mozilla’s principles? Our favorite flaming bird isn't "selling out," is it?
Mozilla has restructured and broken into two: the already existing Mozilla Foundation and a new Mozilla Corporation. The Mozilla Corporation is now responsible for the development of Firefox and Thunderbird, and it will be leasing the software licenses from Mozilla Foundation.
To end users and outside developers, the software will remain freely available and open source. This also doesn’t sound like much change when you consider that the development staff is basically the same. All but four employees have been moved over to the new company. The four people that reside in the Mozilla Foundation now oversee the actions of the corporation, being sure that its goals are on target for the Mozilla project.
It seems that the latest announcement brings Mozilla full circle. After all, Netscape Communications formed the Mozilla Project in 1998. They opened up the Netscape source code to developers under the non-profit’s name, in hopes of spreading the development process. Later that year, America Online bought Netscape Communications. With seeded funding coming largely from AOL, Mozilla formed its own foundation in 2003.
The Mozilla Foundation has deeply corporate roots. Companies were responsible for the creation of it and have kept it alive through continuous funding. One of the most recent and largest contributors has been Google. Now the non-profit plans to slip back into the corporate world. I must say it was not an unpredictable development. Where it will lead Mozilla is a larger question, however.
We wouldn’t want Mozilla to fall to the stress of restructuring, like its big brother Netscape did. After AOL bought the browser, Netscape.com became a ghost town. Though this largely had to do with Microsoft integrating their first competent IE browser into Windows, Netscape still lacked the resilience to make a strong reactive blow to Microsoft. As the innovator and brain of the browser market, Netscape had the potential to blow away IE7, or at least follow up quickly with something competitive.
But it took years (two and half to be exact) for the company to finally release the bug-ridden Netscape 6. The second-rate follow up to their first-class browser is what finally declared victory for IE in the browser wars. Netscape development had slowed down and disregarded quality after the management and development team shifted.