Terrence O’Brien for Engadget:
We’ve caught glimpses of Mozilla’s smartphone offspring before, but Mobile World Congress 2013 was really the proper coming out party. Finally we’ve been given a chance to touch it, see it action and peek at the hardware it’ll be running on. Unfortunately, at this cotillion, Mozilla failed to make a good case for anyone to court its debutante.
Firefox OS continues to intrigue me in some ways, but overall, I’m getting the sense that O’Brien will be right here. Because, well, history.
“We see an opportunity to serve users by converting them from feature phones to inexpensive smartphones. The action is in the emerging market, not going up against the top end of the market in the US, where Android is chasing Apple.”
Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich talking to TechWeek Europe about Firefox OS.
On one hand, I think this approach is smart. Mozilla doesn’t have the ability to compete in the high-end of the smartphone market. But the low-end is ripe for the picking, and is going to come into play quickly.
On the other hand, I think it’s unwise to think that Apple and Android are simply going to cede the emerging markets. Apple clearly cares a lot about China. They’ve had some success there, but they need to get a cheaper iPhone on the market if it’s really going to work. Brazil, I imagine, will be extremely important to them as well. That’s going to be a tough call for Apple — just how far into their margins they’re willing to dip.
Android, of course, is the “free” OS, so naturally they’re going after the emerging markets as well. Except that “free” in this case often means paying Microsoft to use Android. Oh and some OEMs seem to want to do their own things with Android in those markets and then Google threatens to expel them from their “open” alliances.
Nice job, Mozilla, it only took you a full lifecycle of an entire OS to release a pretty standard and straightforward feature that your rivals had months ago.
So, Mozilla and Google are upset because Firefox and Chrome won’t be able to run on Windows RT. But isn’t that obvious? For all the talk of “no compromises” out of Redmond, that’s exactly what Windows RT is: a compromise.
It’s a less-powerful version of Windows 8 that needs to be more tightly controlled to be able to run on less powerful ARM chips. Again, that means compromises. One of them is apparently browser control.
And Microsoft can probably do this because they’re a total non-player in the tablet space right now. While Mozilla and Google obviously think this should fall under the “browser choice” antitrust stuff from the 90s, this is clearly different. Windows RT is not going to have a monopoly over the market in any way, shape, or form. At least not anytime soon.
John Gruber brings up a good question:
What if Windows 8 for ARM, instead of being called “Windows RT”, were instead called, say, “Metro OS”? Would that make a difference? Is Dotzler arguing that Microsoft should not be permitted to ship a version of Windows that locks out third-party browsers, or that Microsoft should not be permitted to ship any OS that locks out third-party browsers?
In light of what Apple has done with iOS, it’s not clear how you can actually make the second argument. As such, it would be humorous if Microsoft continuing to use the “Windows” brand (even when they probably shouldn’t) came back to bit them in the ass here (but I don’t think it actually will).
This is much more interesting than it may appear at first. Mozilla has previously been not just opposed, but vehemently opposed to using the H.264 codec. They view it as patent encumbered.
If you ask Google, one of the reasons they started work on the rival VP8 (the video portion of WebM, which may still also be patent encumbered, by the way) was because of this. They wanted a HTML5 video codec that would span the entire web.
It caused a bit of a shitstorm when Google announced they’d drop H.264 support in Chrome — even though they were keeping Flash built in. It sounded like a nightmare scenario that wouldn’t work.
And it didn’t. In fact, over a year later, Chrome has yet to drop H.264 support.
Now Mozilla is talking about supporting H.264 because basically they have no choice. Their Boot2Gecko mobile OS project will be a complete non-starter without it. And if they do it there, they’re thinking about doing it elsewhere, it seems.
The most interesting quote from Mozilla director of research, Andreas Gal:
Google pledged many things they didn’t follow through with and our users and our project are paying the price. H.264 wont go away. Holding out just a little longer buys us exactly nothing.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Google over-promised and under-delivered. Badly.
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.
I’ve been thinking more about Google’s renewal of their search deal with Mozilla for Firefox. It’s fascinating on a few different levels. Most notably: Google is committing close to a billion dollars to bankroll a browser which is a rival to their own browser.
Well, on the surface, they do get something out of the deal — something quite substantial. Firefox is a browser used by millions of people. Thanks to this deal, it means that almost all of those users will also be Google (Search) users by default.
I don’t know what the exact percentage of searches flowing through Firefox is, but you can bet it’s massive. Google searches mean Google ads shown. This is still by far their primary way of making money. Makes sense. Got it.
Looks like the thought that Bing could step in as the new Firefox benefactor weren’t far off the mark at all. In fact, Microsoft tried to make such a deal happen, Kara Swisher reports.
Ultimately it didn’t happen for one reason: money. At $300 million a year (with a minimum three-year contract), Google is nearly tripling their annual payments to Mozilla to keep Microsoft away.
Also interesting: Yahoo was bidding for the contract as well. But they didn’t have enough money to throw at Mozilla to compete with Google or Microsoft. Considering Bing powers Yahoo search, you’d think the two could have worked together on a bid to displace Google. Though who knows how high Google would have been willing to go.
On the other hand, considering how much Microsoft spends to try and make Bing competitive each year, you’d think they’d be willing to go all-in on such a deal.
Regardless, Mozilla played this well. Historically, over 80 percent of their revenues have come from their Google deal, and that will be much higher now as revenues will likely triple as well.
Well, it looks like the fears were unfounded. Google has renewed their search agreement deal with Mozilla for Firefox.
It’s a multi-year agreement (lasting at least three more years), with neither side disclosing the terms. But we’ll at least partially see them next year when Mozilla posts their revenue numbers. I just wonder if the terms are the same as they have been given the rise of the Chrome.
Marco Arment brings up the most fascinating aspect related to Ed Bott’s report that Google may not be renewing the search deal that essentially keeps Firefox (and really, Mozilla) alive:
What if Bing steps in to fill Google’s shoes?
That would basically mean Microsoft would be funding the demise of their own product, Internet Explorer.
But because Firefox has a huge user base, this is something that Microsoft would have to consider. Such a deal could potentially finally turn Bing from a multi-billion dollar suck hole into an actual business.
I’m also with Marco — this just makes me feel sad for Firefox. I remember when I started using it instead of IE; it was so refreshingly fast. It felt like it opened up a whole range of new possibilities for the web after years of Microsoft stagnation.
Then Firefox too became bloated. And it slowed down. I started using Mozilla’s Camino (their Mac-focused browser) as a result. Then Chrome arrived, in a similar way to the way that Firefox had. It was refreshingly fast…
The (potentially) good news for Mozilla is that now Chrome seems to be continuing that cycle. It’s gaining huge amounts of market share (as Firefox had before it) but the product itself is getting a ton of stuff crammed into it. It’s getting bloated…
But Marco is right, the real key going forward is mobile. And Mozilla is going to have a very hard time competing there simply because they do not control their own platform.
Firefox Phone, anyone?
I like how Mozilla isn’t simply porting Firefox to tablets, they’re re-imaging what the experience should be like on a tablet.
Tabs in portait mode leave something to be desired, but I like the landscape mode (though I do hope there is a way to hide the tab chrome if you want to).
With Firefox at 27.95% and Chrome at 22.14%, they’ve shot past 50% and well past IE’s 42.45%. Impressive. Remember when IE had 90+% of the market?
It also looks like we’re only months away from Chrome passing Firefox.