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 Mozillaís principles? Our favorite flaming bird isn't "selling out," is it?
Officially, Mozilla says the change will help them to promote and expand, not maximize profit. They do not expect to recoup losses, and employees will have competitive (though not large) salaries. Since they are not selling stocks, they donít have to impress investors or meet arbitrary goals that compromise the browser, but it also means they will not turn a profit from an IPO. Wait a minute. Wasnít the point of having a company to turn profit?
Firefox and Thunderbird will stay free. They will stay open source. Companies will continue to make donations. The development team isnít changing. There will be no stocks to trade. So what is the point to the reshuffling?
The short answer: legislation.
Mozilla makes a lot of money. Their primary income is from ďsearch relations,Ē according to Mitchell Baker. A shiny nickel for everyone who already guessed it was Google. The search giant employs two Mozilla workers of their own, in a kind of cooperation. Also, the search giant reportedly spends tens of thousands of dollars on being the default search and the homepage of the web browser. This may be a little hard for Mozilla to declare on their taxes, as evidenced by Mozilla not having filed their 2004 taxes yet. Being a non-profit lays many limitations on what kinds of money they can accept. Being a corporation means they can do pretty much what they want to, in charging for products and services.
Itís probably a sure bet that Mozilla wants to work more on business relations, and itís a lot easier for corporations to deal with a commercial Mozilla. The tie Mozilla has to Google reminds me of rumors a few years ago that Google wanted their own internet browser to launch their own services. In light of the conflict developing between Microsoft and Google already, itís not surprising Google would rather make friends with another strong company than start their own project.
Advertising and promotion can be limited for NPOs as well. Non-profits may face challenges that companies with advertising budgets donít. Many argue that much of Microsoftís success is a result of marketing over innovation; the best product can be stomped by a good brand name and flashy ads. Anyone interested in the success of Firefox will admit it needs some press and promotion outside the internet to really gain more widespread interest.