Since the unveiling its own browser, Google's continued support of Firefox has been somewhat puzzling. But to the world's dominant Web search provider, helping increase the amount of Web use ultimately means more Google searches.
Google has been a good partner to Mozilla over the years, pumping tens of millions of dollars into the open-source foundation that have helped make Firefox arguably the best browser in the world.
More recently with the launch of its open-source Chrome browser, however, Google became both partner and competitor to Mozilla. Given the potential to hurt Firefox adoption, it's interesting to note Google's calculus for introducing Chrome, as detailed in a recent O'Reilly Radar interview with Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience:
We think that, overall, if you make the Web better, people use the Web more. And that ultimately benefits Google because we believe that search is a certain and rather fixed percentage of people's online activities each day. It's hovered right around 5 percent from the very beginning of the Internet...If that's true, one way we can grow search is by gaining market share from other competitors. The other way we can gain share is by just growing the market overall, where we don't necessarily gain share but we gain on overall volume.
As Mayer further details, Google doesn't expect to be the source of all browser innovation. It wants to continue working with Firefox, for example, helping prod the market forward.
As Mozilla CEO John Lilly has said, increased competition in the browser market can spark innovation. Competition isn't comfortable, but because it pushes vendors to do their best work and "often results in innovation of one sort or another," it's ultimately good for customers and competitors.
This is why we should be cheering Google's entry into the browser market--even if we ultimately want Firefox to win. Perhaps especially if we want Firefox to win.
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