Ever since I heard Google is building it’s own webbrowser I’ve been a bit worried about the future of my beloved Firefox. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, I have a tendency to be overly concerned, but still.
To a better browser
As you probably know, Google is the main source of income for the Firefox webbrowser as the Google search engine is pre-installed. Besides coughing up some needed dollars for Firefox’s parent, Mozilla, Google also had some programmers working on improving the Firefox browser. That probably helped in making Firefox the superior browser over Explorer. As Page and Brin had always expressed the desire to build an own browser (the time just wasn’t right with the browser war between Microsoft and Netscape going on) this was a two way deal; Mozilla got a better browser, Google got to learn a lot about building one of their own. And it does appear that Google has been able to make a browser that outdoes the competition; it’s faster, less intrusive, more convenient and it may become the ultimate Windows killer. Since Google build it’s browser ‘Chrome’ from scratch they did not need to take older add-ons and aps into account. This means that their browser is ready for all sorts of web-appliances, like spreadsheets and such, which could mean that you can finally get rid of your ‘Windows Office’ and the paperclip buddy.
A lot of people will cheer the fact that Google is rapidly becoming more than merely a worthy oponent for Microsoft, upon entering the mobile and webbrowser market. And they do it with good products too. What’s even more important; they do it with a very good business plan. Google doesn’t want to make money of granting you access to the internet, nor do they want to make you pay for having fun on the web. Google makes money of having as many people as possible, spending as much minutes online as possible, since their money comes from advertising.
Don’t be evil
Google’s mantra is: Don’t be evil. But actually, I’m quite confident that most people (no more than in any other segment of society) at Microsoft are not evil either. It just happens. In the Netherlands they have a saying: ‘opportunity makes the thief’, which seems to be very fitting. As more and more people start using Google products and Google is sitting on top of more and more information about our behaviour, preferences and other even more sensitive information… Abuse of this information is just around the corner. Starting with minor invasions of our privacy (things that users consider ‘handy’ and would happily trade some privacy for) and from that point on slowly expanding, untill it just might be too late. I’m not saying Google is evil, or that anyone at google wishes it to be evil. I’m saying this might just happen in the future without anyone actually knowing why, including Page and Brin themselves. Gogole has become so big it cannot be controlled by a board anymore, it’s developped it;s own dynamics, or ‘personality’ if you will.
Snaring the Fox
Back to Firefox. Their official comment is that they’re not worried. Google has no intentions of taking money away from the project as they’re still willing to pay for the users of Firefox to use the Google search-engine and because a lot of internet users are great fans of Mozilla and the open source community. Mozilla thinks that most of their users will give Chrome a try, but then come back to Firefox becasue it is genuinly open source. This sounds plausible. Google does not have any beef with Firefox after all. Chrome is going after Explorer. And what if Chrome is becoming the (nearly)biggest webbroser out there and Google finds out there is much more money to be made of consumers that use Chrome than of consumers that merely use their search-engine through Firefox. Perhaps this would take place at a time when the economy is pretty bad and Google employees might need to be laid off in the near future. Wouldn’t it be ‘not evil’ to keep employing your Googlers by killing your alliance with Firefox (and by taking away your money, that might just mean the end of Firefox quite soon). And with the technical ties between Google and Mozilla being so close, but with Google (as the party with all the money) holding all the cards, it would stand to reason that there is no way that Firefox can outsmart Chrome. It would appear that the only way out for Firefox is to build their own search-engine and/or find new ways of making money, which -sort of- geos against their open source ideology.
I keep my fingers crossed for Firefox and hope they don;t go the way Netscape did; pushed out by corporate powerplay. In the end it might not be Google being ‘evil’ to kill the Firefox browser, it might just as well their being ‘not evil’.
I apologize to the people of Apple for not mentioning Safari. Yes, Safari is also a webbrowser. But at this point no one is using it. Give it time.