Yesterday, in response to my post about the intrigue behind the new Google/Mozilla search deal, Peter Kasting, a founder member of the Google Chrome team, took to Google+ to respond. It’s a good response that you should read. And the comments are illuminating as well.
But it doesn’t change anything that I wrote.
As David Ulevitch (who I quote in the original article) points out in the comments, nothing Kasting or I say is really in conflict. Kasting is actually just responding to one small piece of the bigger puzzle (which he himself notes in a follow-up comment). He takes exception to the notion that Google and Mozilla are competitors with Chrome and Firefox, respectively. “Google is funding a partner,” he writes (and italicizes for emphasis).
That’s a nice view. I might (and will) argue that it’s a little too straightforward — so much so that it borders on naiveté — but I believe Kasting and many of the other people working on Chrome believe it. That view is why they do what they do. And it’s why they’re great at what they do. They’re not just building a product, they’re helping the web.
But I don’t work on the Chrome team. I work on the reality team. And to ignore the other layers here would be foolish.
When Kasting states that Google gaining a ton of users is irrelevant to the main goal of Chrome, I think about all those statements from Google executives during earnings calls and keynotes where they tout the Chrome usage numbers. They don’t care about the numbers, except when they care about the numbers — especially when the numbers are great, as they are with Chrome.
Kasting also implies that other browser vendors stepping up their game is a success for Chrome as well. Again, a nice thought. But then why doesn’t Google dish out the usage numbers and highlights for Firefox when they gloat about Chrome? They are a “partner” after all.
Kasting goes on to say that Mozilla’s commitment to the web was why he was hired to work on Firefox for Google before Chrome was built. Of course, the fact that the Chrome project was started despite this team’s existence says something. Mozilla was not doing enough in Google’s mind. “We only shifted to building Chrome when we thought we might be able to cause even greater increases in the rate at which the web advanced,” Kasting writes.
Kasting says that Chrome and Firefox can and will coexist because the browsers have differences that suit different users. But there is no denying that Chrome is eating into Firefox’s market share. They are — wait for it — competing for the same users.
Kasting’s key paragraph:
It’s not hard to understand the roots of this strategy. Google succeeds (and makes money) when the web succeeds and people use it more to do everything they need to do. Because of this Chrome doesn’t need to be a Microsoft Office, a direct money-maker, nor does it even need to directly feed users to Google. Just making the web more capable is enough.
It’s true that Chrome isn’t a direct money-maker — you don’t pay for it — but it is one of the most efficient indirect money-makers ever created. Typing all but direct URLs into the Omnibox leads to a Google Search (yes, you can change it to another browser, but I would bet a tiny amount do). This leads to Google ads being shown. This leads to money being made.
Chrome is a Google Search machine, pure and simple. Denying that (which Kasting isn’t, he just doesn’t directly address it) would be disingenuous.
Further, the notion that “Google succeeds (and makes money) when the web succeeds” seems to greatly discount Android. Google is directing millions of developers away from pure web technology and into Java development as a result of Android. How do you explain that if you’re Chrome striving towards Kasting’s ideals? Shouldn’t Android be more like Chrome OS or Mozilla’s upcoming Boot 2 Gecko project?
Bigger picture, if Google and Mozilla are such partners, why did Google have to renew their deal at 3x the rate of the previous deal? And why was Mozilla talking to Microsoft and Yahoo at all?
Because money, not the open web, makes the world go round.
Had Microsoft won the Firefox deal, what would Kasting have written then? Would Microsoft and Mozilla be partners for a better web? Would Google be just a fan of Mozilla at the point, cheering from the stands — while continuing to take Firefox market share and while Bing ate into Google’s search market share? Heh.
At the end of the day, Mozilla is a non-profit foundation. Google is a for-profit company. Partnerships along these lines are tenuous at best. The Chrome team may be in line with Mozilla’s goal. But Google can never fully be. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, it’s just the reality of the situation.