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Can Firefox survive in a Google world?

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The red panda is the longtime mascot of Mozilla, developer of the Firefox browser.


(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Last week, Microsoft announced it was throwing in the towel on its EdgeHTML development effort and switching to the open-source Chromium engine. That’s a big win for Google, which maintains that codebase and uses it as the core of Google Chrome. It’s arguably a big win for Microsoft’s enterprise customers, too, who can now count on having a standards-compliant browser that works with all their modern web-based apps.

You know who was not among the winners? Mozilla, makers of the Firefox browser.

Also: Microsoft Edge: What went wrong, what’s next

In a doom-and-gloom-soaked post on the Mozilla Blog, CEO Chris Beard criticized Microsoft’s decision even as he acknowledged that it “may well make sense” in business terms even as it poses an existential threat to the non-profit Mozilla:

We compete with Google not because it’s a good business opportunity. We compete with Google because the health of the internet and online life depend on competition and choice. They depend on consumers being able to decide we want something better and to take action.

[…]

If one product like Chromium has enough market share, then it becomes easier for web developers and businesses to decide not to worry if their services and sites work with anything other than Chromium. That’s what happened when Microsoft had a monopoly on browsers in the early 2000s before Firefox was released. And it could happen again.

Unfortunately, Mozilla’s relationship with Google is… Well, let’s just say it’s complicated. Yes, Firefox competes with Google in the browser market, but Google also literally pays to keep the lights on at Mozilla.

Two weeks ago, Mozilla released its annual report, including audited financial statements for 2017. In that report, it acknowledged that “[t]oday, the majority of Mozilla Corporation revenue is generated from global browser search partnerships, including the deal negotiated with Google in 2017 following Mozilla’s termination of its search agreement with Yahoo/Oath….”

In fact, more than 89 percent of Mozilla Corporation’s $562 Million in income in 2017 came from search engine royalties, and almost all that appears to have come from Google. (Yandex is the default Firefox search engine in Russia and Baidu is the default in China. Google is the default in the United States and other developed markets.)

That fact is, tellingly, listed under the “Concentration of risk” heading in the Mozilla 2017 financial statement (PDF).


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The current search-engine contracts run out in November 2020, less than two years from now. If Google decides to end that search relationship or change its terms in a material way, the financial impact would be devastating on Mozilla. With $514 million in cash on hand and $421 million in annual expenses, it would only be able to operate for about 15 months without cutting another search deal.

Unfortunately for Mozilla, most of the market forces that forced Microsoft Edge to give up on its independent browser engine apply equally to Firefox.

Despite excellent reviews, the Firefox Quantum browser, released in late 2017, hasn’t been able to steal any significant usage share on desktop platforms. Depending on which source you look at, Firefox continues to be stuck in the high single digits as a percentage of overall browser usage.

In the latest figures from the US Government Digital Analytics Program, for example, Firefox accounted for exactly 8 percent of traffic from Windows PCs and Macs, compared to 8.44 percent for Microsoft Edge and 7.9 percent for Safari. That comparison is even worse than it appears, because Edge can’t even be installed on devices running MacOS or versions of Windows other than Windows 10, and the desktop version of Safari runs only on the Mac.

If you look only at mobile operating systems, Firefox is a non-starter, with one-half of 1 percent of web traffic as measured by DAP, which is slightly less than Amazon’s Silk browser. Part of the problem might be that Google treats Firefox as a second-class citizen, as ZDNet’s Chris Duckett reported in July 2018:

“We are focused on providing a great experience for search across browsers, and continue to work to improve this for all users,” a Google spokesperson told ZDNet.

“Firefox uses the Gecko engine, which requires us to do extensive testing on all of our features to ensure compatibility, as it’s different from WebKit (which is used by Chrome, Safari, UC, Opera). We’ve done this for Firefox desktop, but have not done the same level of testing for mobile.”

That’s the same problem that Microsoft’s engineers cited as their primary reason for giving up on EdgeHTML. I’ve heard that the overwhelming majority of the time and energy that EdgeHTML developers spent over the past three years has been on fixing compatibility problems with sites that didn’t work properly because they were only tested on WebKit and Chromium-based browsers.

Can Mozilla afford the technical costs of maintaining the only rendering engine and browser code base that isn’t based on WebKit or Blink (Google’s Chromium-based fork of WebKit)?

The brutal nature of competition in the modern technology landscape suggests that Mozilla’s mission of providing an alternative to the Google monoculture is admirable and probably doomed to failure. The big question is whether Google will continue to pay royalties to keep Mozilla afloat after 2020. That might happen, just as insurance against potential antitrust action.

PREVIOUS AND RELATED COVERAGE:

Mozilla: Why Microsoft Edge’s switch to Google’s Chromium is bad news

Microsoft’s move probably won’t help Edge and it’s also bad for the open web, say Mozilla, Vivaldi.

Microsoft confirms that Chrome extensions will run on new Edge browser

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser could close the extension gap.

Microsoft’s Edge to morph into a Chromium-based, cross-platform browser

Microsoft is going to remake its Edge desktop browser by using Chromium components and by bringing it to Windows 7, 8.1 and macOS, in addition to Windows 10.

Microsoft Edge: What went wrong, what’s next

Microsoft’s grand browser experiment flopped in the marketplace, so the company is turning to an unlikely successor: the open-source Chromium project. Can it succeed where EdgeHTML failed?

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The Best Features Of The Aston Martin Vulcan

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Although the Vulcan was specifically designed not to be road legal, one owner decided that they wanted to stick on some license plates and take it on the highway anyway. Except, it was far from that simple, as the conversion process required making some major changes to the car, and cost several hundred thousand dollars on top of the original purchase price (via Motor1). The street conversion was handled by RML Group but had full support from the Aston Martin factory, and after completion, it became the only road-legal Vulcan in existence.

Among the litany of changes required were the addition of windshield wipers, side mirrors, and a central locking system. Michelin road tires were also fitted, and a new set of headlights had to be installed to meet height requirements for British roads. The bladed tail lights were also covered over for safety, and a few of the sharper surface edges around the cabin were smoothed out. Then, the engine was remapped to meet emissions requirements, the suspension was softened, and a lift system was installed to give the car extra clearance for speed bumps. After all that, plus a few final touches, a license plate was fitted and the car was ready to go. Unfortunately, it seems like the owner’s enthusiasm for taking it on the road quickly evaporated, as checking the car’s plates against the British government database shows that its MOT (the annual national roadworthiness test) certificate expired back in January 2022.

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5 Cars Owned By Bob Seger That Prove He Has Great Taste

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Pulling into the final spot on the list is a 1969 Shelby Cobra GT350 Fastback. This particular car is unique for a few reasons. First, it was the last “new original” Shelby that Ford would produce. The GT350 and GT500 released in 1970 weren’t actually new or original but re-VIN’d production cars from the previous year. Also, during the summer of ’69, Carrol Shelby ended his association with Ford (via MustangSpecs).

It had one of Ford’s new 351 Windsor V8 engines with a 470 CFM four-barrel Autolite carburetor under the hood that pounded out 290hp and 385 lb-ft of torque. Its 0 – 60 time was a modest 6.5 seconds, and it did the quarter mile in 14.9 seconds (via MustangSpecs).

According to MustangSpecs, it was typically mated to a 4-speed manual transmission, but Seger’s had a Tremec 6-speed stick instead (via Mecum Auctions). Seger’s Candy Apple Red GT350 had Ford’s upgraded interior package, flaunting a landscape of imitation teak wood covering the dash, steering wheel, door accents, and center console trim (via MustangSpecs).

According to Mecum Auctions, Seger’s was number 42 of 935. When it sold at auction in 2013 for $65,000, it noted that it had been displayed at the Henry Ford Museum at the Rock Stars, Cars & Guitars Exhibit.

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Here’s What Made Volkswagen’s Air-Cooled Engine So Special

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Engines like the Chevy Small Block, Ford 5.0, Chrysler HEMI, and Toyota 2JZ are known for power, torque, and how quickly they can propel a hunk of steel down the drag strip or around the corners of a track. The Volkswagen air-cooled engine is remembered amongst people who have owned one as reliable, easy to maintain, and as numerous as grains of sand on the beach. VW made literally tens of millions of the engine, including over 21 million in just the Beetle (via Autoweek). 

It’s difficult to nail down specific aspects of the engine’s early history as sources tend to disagree on years. But the engine can be traced back to very early Volkswagen models designed with help from Ferdinand Porsche and built in the late-1930s to early 1940s in Nazi Germany. Official sources from Volkswagen are reluctant to acknowledge use of the engine or even the existence of the Beetle prior to the end of World War II.

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