Google and Chrome: How Much Does the Company Really Care About Firefox?

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 16, 2008

Ever since Google unveiled its open source Chrome browser, I and others have been wondering what its stance toward Mozilla Firefox will be going forward. Firefox, of course, has proven to be the little engine that could among really ubiquitous open source applications, with more than 20 percent market share now. Firefox has also been subsidized by Google for years, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, and Google recently pledged to continue that funding through 2011. Still, there are some signs that Google's long-term plan may be to promote Chrome at what could be the expense of Firefox. Is Firefox's future in peril?

Sure, everyone's heard the talk about how Google's Chrome browser is really just the first step in a cloud operating system play. I'm not holding my breath on that, but I definitely noticed with interest this item from Matt Asay, where he notes that although Firefox used to be the default browser in the Google Pack  one-download collection of Google's and third-party free applications, now Chrome has supplanted it. You can still get Firefox with Google Pack, but it's more than significant that the default browser there is now Chrome.

This move with Google Pack--emphasizing its own applications in a bundled offering, and now even dropping long-standing buddy Firefox from the default mix--falls in line with other moves that Google has been making that are right out of Microsoft's playbook. How did Microsoft get commanding share of the browser market when Netscape had more than 80 percent share? They struck bundling deals with every major hardware manufacturer to put Internet Explorer on Windows systems as the default browser. That's why, now, the blue "e" on the desktop of new Windows computers means Internet to so many people. For many of them, neither Firefox nor Chrome has ever been on their radar. (The blue slice of pie in the chart above represents Internet Explorer's market share now, according to Net Applications, and the green slice is Firefox's share.)

Google has expressed plans to change that by striking bundling deals with OEMs that will put Chrome on systems as the default browser. And, very importantly, Google has now made clear that it is pushing for a healthy universe of extensions for Chrome, where lack of extensions has been Chrome's weak point relative to Firefox. Many of the Chrome extensions will be forks of existing Firefox extensions, so the process won't take long.

I won't be surprised to see Google end its funding of Mozilla after the 2011 agreement expires. I think the company has its sights sets on several Microsoft-like plays with regard to putting Chrome on computers as the default browser, and pushing bundles of its own applications. This is no emergency now. At the moment, Firefox keeps Microsoft from having a browser monopoly, which Google is rooting for, and Google gets healthy traffic from Firefox users. But it could spell big trouble for Mozilla and Firefox down the line, as Google's money and muscle possibly start to encroach on Mozilla's turf.