Don't Begrudge Mozilla for Being a Commercial Open Source Company

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 03, 2010

Do you hate the idea of anyone tracking your habits and usage patterns online? I'm convinced that most of us hate the idea, and even more convinced that users of Linux and open source platforms and applications hate it even more than the average user does. Efforts are ongoing to track your habits very closely, though, and that's why it's worth paying attention to the ongoing debate over Mozilla's stance on web privacy. Canonical COO and noted open source blogger Matt Asay has a good piece up on the topic at The Register, and The Wall Street Journal has been covering it as well. So far, Mozilla appears to have behaved as much in favor of openness and freedom as it can, but let's hope it continues to do so without begrudging the fact that Mozilla is a commercial open source company.

As The Wall Street Journal has reported, Mozilla allegedly killed a do-not-track tool that it was working on, purportedly under pressure from advertisers. That would be a particularly notable move because Mozilla gets the bulk of its revenues from Google, in exchange for search placement.  And Google, of course, depends on advertising for its giant revenues.

But Matt Asay notes that Mozilla Vice President Mike Shaver disputes the fact that Mozilla has to cater to advertising interests:

"I wouldn't say we are under pressure from advertisers. They are a big part of the economics of the web. We want to understand what their needs are."

Asay also notes this important point:

"One of the big challenges of open-source software has been finding successful revenue models to pay for its development. This is why most open-source software development - at least, within the big projects like Linux - is done by paid developers who are employed by companies selling proprietary software or hardware."

That's increasingly true, and Mozilla's open source tools wouldn't be as good as they are without the ongoing financial support it has had from Google--support that it needs going forward. Likewise, Mozilla can't just avoid the interests of the advertising community altogether, no matter how altruistic it is about openness on the web. Like it or not, commercial open source companies are still companies, and the economics of the online world have everything to do with their present and their future.