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?
To think of Firefox incorporating more corporate interests may fill you with disgust, but consider the Google search bar already looming over your desktop. That little panel is the definition of what corporate involvement brings to the browser. Firefox was popularized partially on the cooperation of Firefox and Google. Sure, you can customize the search bar to use other engines; you will probably be able to do this to any new Firefox features.
But to revive the discussion about a Google browser, think about what optional Firefox elements could be added. You could opt to access Gmail through a specialized tab (or maybe sidebar) that is essentially an email client for opening your Gmail. Loading times would decrease and the flexibility would be unmatched by any other webmail. A similar thing could be devised for Blogger, Google’s blogging service. Or perhaps Thunderbird would get a share of these features.
Maybe they could add new search software that watches the pages you browse and suggests other pages based on its content. This could border on spyware, especially if it records your browsing statistics. Yet if implemented optionally and fully featured, even borderline spyware could prove to be useful.
These “search relationships” are probably the struggling point of Mozilla as a non-profit. Opening their organization into a business makes these relationships easier to manage and declare on tax returns. It also opens the possibility of there being more web service plug-ins designed b the Mozilla team.
Like Red Hat, the Mozilla could now also charge for corporate customer service and custom software implementations. A lack of full customer support is a huge turn off for many large businesses that depend on Microsoft supported products. Being able offer and charge for a service system makes Mozilla more of a competing product to rival IE.
Mozilla could also customize their browser, for a fee. Some libraries and organizations like having a browser specialized for their workstations. A special browser can have a few custom buttons or also lack features that users shouldn’t be able to change.
This change is for these reasons and not anything that will alter an end user’s or developer’s experience. To anyone concerned with the source code becoming closed, consider that most of the browser is GPL-ed and cannot be closed (I say "most" because the error reporting tool has always been closed source). There would be no reason for Mozilla to sever its roots with the open source community which has developed and popularized it. That would do far more harm than good to their share of the browser market. I, for one, would consider becoming a loyal Opera user. Basically, selling out would kill Firefox, and I'm sure Mozilla knows it.