Last week, Google and Mozilla renewed their deal, which makes Google the default search option in the Firefox browser. The deal is worth about a billion dollars, according to reports.
Since the deal was announced, there has been a lot of discussion about Google essentially funding its competitor in the web browser market, as money from the deal is pretty much the only thing keeping Mozilla afloat.
It’s very possible that Microsoft would have taken the opportunity to boost Bing’s market share without the Google deal in place. Others have noted how much more Google is paying this time around than its previous search deal. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that a big part of Google’s strategic thinking is about keeping that part of its search market share. There are still a ton of people using Firefox, despite Chrome’s growing popularity.
Peter Kasting, a software engineer and founding member of Google’s Chrome team, who also designed and built Chrome’s omnibox (the address bar that lets you conduct a search), takes issue with this whole “funding a competitor” mentality, insisting that rather, Google is funding a “partner”.
People never seem to understand why Google builds Chrome no matter how many times I try to pound it into their heads. It’s very simple: the primary goal of Chrome is to make the web advance as much and as quickly as possible. That’s it. It’s completely irrelevant to this goal whether Chrome actually gains tons of users or whether instead the web advances because the other browser vendors step up their game and produce far better browsers. Either way the web gets better. Job done. The end.
But that was not the end. He continued:
So it’s very easy to see why Google would be willing to fund Mozilla: Like Google, Mozilla is clearly committed to the betterment of the web, and they’re spending their resources to make a great, open-source web browser. Chrome is not all things to all people; Firefox is an important product because it can be a different product with different design decisions and serve different users well. Mozilla’s commitment to advancing the web is why I was hired at Google explicitly to work on Firefox before we built Chrome: Google was interested enough in seeing Firefox succeed to commit engineering resources to it, and we only shifted to building Chrome when we thought we might be able to cause even greater increases in the rate at which the web advanced.
Nor was that the end of the post, but that pretty much covers the meat and potatoes.
Apparently a lot of people went on to criticize Kasting’s post and general mentality, basically implying that he’s living in a fantasy land, though browsing through the comments on the post, I see a fair amount of support for his points, or belief at least. Even tech columnist MG Siegler, who’s post in particular was the catalyst for Kasting’s rant, said, “We’re not saying opposing things at all, I totally buy all of this. But there are a few other sides which can’t be ignored.”
In a follow up post, Kasting went off on another rant about people’s perception of him being “hopelessly naive and idealistic.” In that one, he says:
Let me be clear: I’m not denying that Google makes money, or claiming that isn’t a factor in decisions. But the “realists” (as multiple people proudly declared themselves to be yesterday) are so busy patting themselves on the back for “seeing through” Google’s actions to expose what they think is the short-term, exploitative focus driving everything that they completely miss the possibility that people in for-profit corporations can actually care about humanity, the world, ethics, doing the right thing, or hell, even long-term strategic planning. You don’t have to be an idealist to see why, for a company that benefits when people use the web, making the web better is a good long-term move; or why a company that wants its users’ trust and loyalty would benefit from not secretly spying on everything they do.
What do you think? Is Google’s main motivation simply making the web better?