For Mozilla, Google is both sole patron and now direct competitor, which is at best strategically awkward. Firefox market share has plateaued. They’re losing their status as the browser of choice amongst the cool kids to Chrome. It is no longer the svelte and solid product it once was as lobbying seems increasingly prized at Mozilla above software development. The idealistic fire burns low as the dog is not sure what to do after catching the car.
While Mozilla drifts, Microsoft, meanwhile, has a tremendous need to change the browser game. Internet Explorer is getting bigger faster than it is getting better. Attenuating market share loss does not constitute a winning strategy. Instead of inflicting yet another column on the compatibility test matrix with a new rendering engine, why not just embrace Firefox? At this point, Microsoft has acquiesced to the idea of cross-platform browser compatibility. The browser anyway is just a container for Silverlight which is the real presentation strategy. Mozilla can help propagate Silverlight as well as help with browser search defaults. Mozilla executives are publicly expressing a preference for Bing despite their Google-funded paychecks, so cultivating Firefox users and the open source community more broadly is not nearly as crazy as it might have sounded even six months ago.
Microsoft has already paid almost $2.5 billion for the privilege of being required to ship Firefox and other browsers with Windows in Europe (who knew there were 12 “popular” browsers?). And the company has gotten nothing out of strategic control of IE all the while butting heads with the EU. Now that the (Fire)fox’s nose is through the Windows’ window (to butcher a metaphor badly), the renowned software designers of Brussels and their various friends (aka “Other” in most market share reports) are now hard at work trying to expand that toehold (and the scariest part of this for Microsoft should be the regulations starting entangle Office as part of this).
In yet another eerie Richard Nixon parallel, Microsoft has a history of surprise rapprochements with once bitter foes (Apple, Novell, Sun, arguably China and they’ll probably end up bailing IBM out one of these days…). Why not add Mozilla to the list? It not only costs little to let the wookie win, but it helps on multiple fronts of the new competitive landscape. And maybe more importantly, is a powerful demonstration to the world just how much that landscape has shifted, all to Microsoft’s advantage amidst its metamorphosis from Evil Empire to benign-by-comparison former Evil Empire.
Just a thought.