Have you ever wondered how Mozilla made money? Created by the Netscape Communications Group in early 1998, Mozilla.org went on to create so serious a contender to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer that Netscape’s own browser officially stopped being supported in March 2008. Now getting ready to bring us the fourth version of Firefox, Mozilla also has the Thunderbird email client, the Seamonkey internet suite, the Mac-friendly Camino web browser and the Sunbird scheduling tool amongst its repertoire.

logo-onlyMost web savvy surfers use the result of at least one Mozilla project or come into contact with those recommending their use on a regular basis, but does anyone know where the purveyor of open source surfing solutions gets its money from? After all, all of its projects are provided free and open to users and developers alike. But no-one can survive as long as Mozilla in a competitive market without making some money, somehow.

Funded by Netscape

thunderbird-logoInitially the organization was financed by the Netscape Group and in 1998 had just three full-time staff to find wages for. Most of the coding development work at that time was undertaken by Netscape staff and hundreds of volunteers in the open source community. When AOL took over the reigns at Netscape late in 1998, the telecomms giant confirmed that its support for the project would continue and later backed this up with a substantial donation, assisting with the creation of the Mozilla Foundation in 2003 after reducing investment in the Netscape browser and transferring intellectual property into the safe hands of said Foundation.

The Mozilla Foundation is described as “a non-profit organization that sponsors the Mozilla project and devotes its resources to promoting openness, innovation and opportunity on the Internet”. With such community spirit at its very core, it’s no surprise to find that the Foundation gratefully accepts donations towards its operational and development costs from its users – that’s you and me folks. It’s now time for me to make an admission. Although I’ve happily used Mozilla products for years, I’ve never actually parted with any cash. Nor do I know anyone who has. Maybe you could add to my guilt by telling me that you have.

sunbirdLuckily for those of us who enjoy all the benefits of Mozilla’s projects without spending a penny, the Foundation also accepts, sometimes quite substantial, donations from companies such as AOL and Google and many others. The Foundation uses a slice of this income to fund enterprises in keeping with the aims of the organization. In 2007, the Foundation made grants to the University of Toronto Adaptive Technology Resource Center, The Perl Foundation, Creative Commons and the GNOME Foundation to name but a few.

Mostly Google

Contractual arrangements with companies like Google and Nokia are also accepted, but due to the strict rules governing the non-profit status of the Foundation, such things are taken care of by the Mozilla Corporation. A wholly-owned subsidiary of the Foundation, it was set up in 2005 to look after all business dealings and oversee all those lucrative contracts, like those which see Google and other popular engines provide default search referrals and which are said to account for over 80% of the company’s total revenue. The Corporation’s Board of Directors and Management Team are made up of Foundation members and various business people.

caminoMozilla continues to get much of its wealth from companies like Google, who has recently committed to extending its dealings with the company until at least 2011. Whether advice offered by Mozilla’s Director of Community Development, Asa Dotzler, earlier this month to ditch Google in favor of Microsoft’s Bing search engine signals a forthcoming change to this relationship remains to be seen. But whatever happens with that, so long as Mozilla continues to openly innovate, inspire, freely create and grab an increasing share of the internet application market, companies will no doubt be more than willing to offer huge sums of money by way of donation or investment and so help to ensure its survival.

Are you surprised that Mozilla gets most of its income via contracts with companies like Google? Have you ever donated to, or received a grant from, the Mozilla Foundation or know anyone who has?