How Does Mozilla Firefox Make Money?

And watch how the open internet is being consumed by the Borg.

These four maps are from Statcounter. They chart out the leading internet browsers by country.

Back in 2008 Microsoft’s Klingon empire had leveraged its dominance in desktop personal computers to pwn almost the entire planet.

Leading browser by country 2008

The world quaked at this market power and looked to regulatory solutions. The bureaucrats knew there was something wrong, but as usual got their ass in gear just as the tectonic plates were already shifting. They cut a deal with Microsoft forcing a browser choice screen in Europe in 2009.

Having backed a scrappy non-profit rebel alliance called Firefox Mozilla for almost a decade, the Borg decided to step it up a gear. Borrowing an engine from Apple, the Borg launched its Chrome browser in December 2008.

Map of leading browser by country 2010

The Borg’s early traction was limited, with only around 5% market share by 2010. The fall of Russia to Mozilla overstates their traction, because under the surface, the tipping point towards the Borg, and away the Klingons was already happening.

Map of leading browser by country 2013

Boom. Borg breakout.

After that it become a clean-up operation.

Map of leading browser by country 2016

I love how the Germans have stayed loyal to Firefox. Its not often you bracket Germany, Sudan and Myanmar in the same sentence.

Mozilla’s Business Model 2008

  1. Create a superior web browser to Internet Explorer
  2. Sign a search deal making Google their default search engine
  3. Receive a cut of these search revenues
  4. Invest said revenues in improving its browser

How the Borg Wins

I’m not even going to make a list. Chrome is better. It’s faster, more responsive and deals with the internet in a superior way.

When I call the-one-who-shalt-not-be-named THE BORG, I mean it in a nice way. If you watch Star Trek, you will know the Borg as evil cyborgs out to assimilate everyone else. These guys, the ones that rhyme with Bugle, are simply incredibly effective in delivering superior value to the user in the most discreet and monetizable way possible.

But that’s not to understate two things

  1. We the user are the Product for sale
  2. The product consists of all the things we like, all our desires, all the things we fear, what we understand and every penny we will ever spend

Blog writers like myself are hugely aware of the power of the Borg. They drive the majority of the traffic on the internet. Perhaps because they’re poorly written, two previous blog posts of mine do not rank at all in search results. The relationship with Android is self-explanatory. The connection with Uber is less well known, but is quite straightforward, the Borg have invested $260m in them.

Brief History of Mozilla

Compare Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to the browser to you are using now, whether that is Chrome, Firefox, or Edge. Now imagine IE except a hundred times worse. That was the world in 2003 and you didn’t have a choice.

Thanks to its 95% market share in PCs, and a history of squeezing competitors like Netscape, IE was the only game in town

My wife makes me eat vanilla ice cream. She won’t let me buy anything else. Its like the world has only one flavor of ice cream. I mean seriously, how boring is only having one flavor?!

Individuals and tech giants wanted an alternative. Mozilla (as in Mosaic killer) was the early internal name for Netscape Navigator and work began in 1998 to try to evolve the defeated Netscape into a genuine alternative.

How Does Mozilla Firefox Make Money?

Image: Wojciech Szczesny

Switching to an open source model, it hoped to build on the more collaborative and idealistic world of technology expounded by Linux and Linus Torvalds.

The breakthrough actually came when Netscape started scaling back its support. In 2003 the Mozilla Foundation was set up and funded by a rebel alliance including AOL, IBM, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems and Mitch Kapor – the founder of Lotus and Mozilla’s first chairman.

They had wanted to call their new browser Phoenix, but Phoenix Technologies objected. Phoenix the browser became Firebird, and ran into an objection from an open source database server by the same name.

Firefox? Anyone out there? Ok you cute little red pandas, thanks for putting your hands up. But are you incorporated? Nope, excellent new name found!

How do red pandas make money

Image: Alex LG

2004 saw the release of Firefox 1.0. New features included pop-up blocking, a search box in the top right corner, tabbed browsing and add-ons. Some of these features already existed, but only Firefox delivered them to enough users to create a sustainable business model.


I’ve touched on many developments above. Others to mention are Apple’s ground-breaking iPhone leading the smartphone revolution, and Apple’s hard to beat rendering engine Webkit.

Rendering engines take in HTML, javascript and assorted other bits of code and spits out the internet you know and love. Except the internet you know depends on the browser you use. Webkit is at the heart of Safari, Chrome and Opera.

Mozilla and Microsoft are hold outs. Mozilla prefers its own Gecko engine. If you’re wondering Microsoft Edge uses EdgeHTML, an almost total rewrite of the Trident engine that IE was based on.

Browser Market Share

Browser market share 2008 to 2016

This is the data in chart form, across desktops and mobile devices. Apple dominates iPhones, iPads and Macs. Microsoft has been crucified. Firefox peaked out in 2010. Chrome is the clear leader.

Mozilla’s Business Model 2016

Mozilla’s search deal with Google expired in 2014. That year it had $330m of revenues. It has not released an annual report since then, but have disclosed making money in the following ways.


  1. Offer Yahoo as the default search engine in the United States
  2. Offer Yandex as the default search in Russia
  3. Offer Baidu as the default search in China
  4. Receive a cut of these search revenues
  5. Leave Google as the default in places like Europe where it gets no revenues
  6. Invest less and less dollars in its products as its revenues slowly decline

It is not clear whether Mozilla or the Borg called time on their agreement. Mozilla attempted to create additional revenue sources, such as quietly integrating the read it later service Pocket and testing advertising on newly opened tabs. However, these have had little traction and mostly elicited criticism from the Mozilla community. Mozilla has struggled to balance its original values and its commercial need for a sustainable way to make money and invest.

Firefox OS, a nascent competitor to Android appears to be going nowhere.

I’ve downloaded Firefox on to my OnePlus, but every so often I am still forced to switch back to Chrome when a website fails on me.

Google are great, but it makes me sad that an amazing organization and product like Mozilla Firefox, that led dramatic improvements in the way we enjoy the internet, is now rotting on the vine.

Maybe in Chrome and Edge we get a great choice, but how do we know that that will still be true in ten years’ time?

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Yuen Lo


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