Blog Post

Why Did Google Abandon Firefox?

Today Google unveiled Chrome, an open-source web browser built for web apps. The release begs the question: What happened to its relationship with Mozilla, its Mountain View, Calif.-based neighbor and formerly close collaborator on Firefox, the open-source upstart trying (and to some extent succeeding) to take a piece out of Internet Explorer? [digg=]

In addition to providing the majority of the non-profit Mozilla’s revenue through a deal to be the default search engine for the Firefox browser, Google had in the past paid for some of its own employees to work part-time or more on Firefox. Most notably, Google hired Firefox lead engineer Ben Goodger in January 2005 under the condition that he would continue to work at least half-time on Mozilla projects.

And who should turn out to be one of the lead engineers on Chrome but Goodger himself, who in fact presented the browser at a media event at Google’s headquarters today. When asked after the presentation about the circumstances surrounding his stopping work on Firefox, Goodger said the Chrome project had begun two years ago, after he was hired, and he was grateful to Mozilla for giving him his first experience in the space. (As confirmation, Goodger’s blog says he stopped contributing to the Mozilla project in 2006.)

When we talked to Mozilla CEO John Lilly yesterday his spoke of Chrome like that of a competitor, saying he would wait and see if he should be worried about yet another player in the market.

So when did Google decide to forge its own path? Sundar Pichai, Google’s VP of product management, said that at some point Google realized it wanted a complete overhaul of a browser to fit its needs. While Chrome development was conducted in secrecy, now that it’s (somewhat incongruously) out there as an open-source project it may have the opportunity to rejoin other browsers’ development cycles, he said. “I hope that big chunks of Chrome can make it into next generations of Firefox,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin, later adding he wouldn’t mind if they made it into Internet Explorer, either.

“Without what [Mozilla] have done, this would have been nearly impossible because would have had only one browser,” said co-founder Larry Page.

At least for Google there’s some money behind those words; in a nice bit of timing, Google last week renewed its Firefox search deal through November 2011. And Pichai made a point of emphasizing that Google services aren’t given preferential treatment within Chrome, though the default search provider is rather obvious.

So OK, it’s another open-source, free web browser. What’s in it for Google? Page said that the monetary benefits Google will gain from Chrome will come from the better and cheaper-to-develop web apps that its engineers can build using a better browser, as well as increased user loyalty and freed-up user time so they can search more.

But because Google has no desktop monopoly to build upon, what ultimately matters is if (like its search engine) Chrome is faster and better enough than existing options to prompt people to switch. For me, Big Brother implications aren’t an issue, but it’s just not worth using Windows, so I’ll grumble through Firefox stalling out my computer for yet another day until the Mac version comes out.

Chrome’s features — “incognito” browsing, searching within sites from the toolbar, tab dragging on steroids — are indeed excellent, and if Mozilla isn’t holding a grudge, should be added to Firefox ASAP. But the features are for early adopters and power users, so it’s Firefox’s market share that Chrome will eat up, not IE’s. And it’s Firefox’s engineers that Google took away. Maybe being open source and having a common enemy will heal up this little bout of backstabbing, but then again, maybe not.

62 Responses to “Why Did Google Abandon Firefox?”

  1. Google is sneakly becoming another enterprise compnay like Microsoft and they will start charging for all their services.
    The nly difference is Google is hiding behind the open source technology to tell people how nice they are.

    We know the reason behind it.
    Collect more data from user and sell the collected data to third party companies for marketing.
    Obvious example was when they launched Android Mobile Phone and Chrome.I had all applications free but now if you want to get applications you need to pay for many of them.

    Firefox had over 1 Million download in one day and milions of user and developers are using firefox.At the end if not Google then Next options,yeah unfortutanely Miscrosost.

  2. mishimash

    i love chrome because it provides bigger screen space especially in netbooks, i love the speed. its the best part of it. Because firefox takes 13 seconds to start up, while chrome only takes 2 to 3 seconds. Even IE is faster in start ups..

    But i still use firefox because of the add ons…like zotero, ad block plus, etc… which are really useful for me.

  3. i tried chrome. i must said that its 10 more stable than firefox. you must remember that chrome is build after firefox. its develop by the former lead engineer of firefox. this is the end of firefox. unless firefox start tied together with yahoo.

    this is the war, only the strongest will survive.

    firefox memory leak kill me, i don’t see this problem in chrome yet. unless firefox start to redesign its core engine to solve this problem. firefox will be like internet explorer who who they tend to look down before.

  4. And what is all the excitement about? Someone realize that making the browser a REAL Windows GUI application. DUH! It was all predictable. As one of the early vendors with multiple device interfaces, it was easy to see this happening. This will make our legacy GUI clients even more attractive.

    But just as it was during the early days, the same will happen again – everyone will once again get into the “FRONTEND GUI” game again. Remember AOL? Remember Prodigy and CIS? This was a good move by GOOGLE, they had to get into the market eventually.

    Here’s the thing: If they keep bashing Microsoft Windows, keep trying to make the Windows PC – Google PC, then Microsoft might find borrowing Apple’s unethical practice cracking open the door to “Kill Switch” to be within Microsoft’s legal right to do the same. All Microsoft has to argue that they have competitors leaching off their platform to be used against them.

    In the end, there is nothing really knew here but a new emphasis on a new enhanced language for GUI development. Period. It remember of the early days of interpretive BASIC and the early cries that it was too slow for the growing power programming needs. Then we got p-code and compiled BASIC. But the interpretive languages survived one way or another over the years because the hardware speed was increasing. Now we just got BLOAT WARE and the every increasing need to be always connected and exchanging information slowing it all down again.

    So whats next?

    We got the ISP/TELCO now once again grabbing the PAY PER BYTE business model, just like MA Bell (AT&T) once had and had to let go there for a number of years. But they got it back now.

    What does this mean?

    Offline Communications Per Hands? Its how I got started in the telecomputing market back in 84 with my Silver Xpress Offline Mail reader to offset the cost of being online to read your mail. I see much of the same needs coming back if the telcos get their way with data/bandwidth price model.

    Hector Santos, CTO
    Santronics Software, Inc.

  5. In the future, who control the web browser, who control the computer users. Ask yourself, are you still use computer softwares everyday as before, except for the operation system and web browser? I believe that the future world will be controlled by web software. So you have to prepare it from now.:)

  6. Ugly American

    Big Dave said it & I’ll say it again:


    Firefox & Opera allow you to block ads.

    Chrome & IE don’t block ads AND they allow Google & MS to spy on you 24/7.

    Chrome may as well be ‘written’ by some malware scammers – they take somebody else’s engine (WebKit is Apple’s fork of KDE’s excellent KHTML engine!) and just wrap their spyware around it.

  7. God you’re ignorant. Abandon? Google’s actions only demonstrate that they are pro-competition. Given that they have invested another 3 years in Mozilla, how can you claim abandonment? If anything, they will push Firefox to excel and vice-versa.