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Firefox – A $50+ Million Cash Cow

written by John Chow on January 3, 2007

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Mozilla Foundation chairman Mitchell Baker on Tuesday disclosed how much money Mozilla made from their Firefox web browser in 2005: $52.9 million.

Figures were not disclosed for 2006 but Baker did say the foundation’s 2003 revenue was $2.4 million and 2004 revenue was $5.8 million. You can take a guess at 2006 revenue and project 2007 revenue based on that.

Now the obvious question; How does Firefox make money?

firefox.jpg

You see that little Google search box on the upper right? If you use that box to make a search and click on one of the Google ads from the results page, Firefox gets an estimated 80% of the money. In addition to the search box, Mozilla also makes money from searches made on the Firefox start page.

The Google search box adds value and income to Firefox and that is the key to making big money on the Net. Users of Firefox don’t see the Google search box as advertising. Instead they see is as a value added service and they don’t mind that Mozilla makes money from the sponsored links. Most of them don’t even know Firefox makes money from it. I’m sure if they find out it made over $50 million in 2005, they will be shocked.

Firefox is a great example on how Open Source software can be profitable. The search revenue generated by the browser has allowed the non-profit Mozilla Foundation to continue to expand. The foundation started with just 10 employees, but now has teams of people where it once had a few.

Based on the growth of the Firefox browser (57% of visitors to this blog use Firefox), I would not be shocked to see 2006 revenue at over $100 million. That would definitely rank Firefox among Google’s biggest publishers.

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{ 50 comments }

Michael Kwan January 3, 2007 at 12:33 pm

It’s a win-win situation. Users (like me) love having quick access to a bunch of sites I use regularly (Google, Wikipedia, IMDB, etc.) and Mozilla makes a few (more than a few, I guess) bucks. Works for me.

Raghu January 3, 2007 at 12:40 pm

Ever since I moved to Mozilla about a year ago – I have been fully satisfied and dont miss Internet Explorer the browser I used for over 10 years a wee bit

Al Davies January 3, 2007 at 1:03 pm

That’s interesting! I almost always use that little search box to get google results. It’s handy because it’s always there AND it offers suggestions when you’re typing tough words or proper names (although that feature seems to have appeared fairly recently).

Hey JC, why don’t you use google search on your site to bolster your already-out-of-sight earnings?

Leftblank January 3, 2007 at 1:17 pm

I didn’t quite know this was ‘official’, but it does explain the fact that Google hires programmers every now and then to work on opensource projects like Firefox; they profit from Firefox’ success anyway.

mad4 January 3, 2007 at 1:18 pm

Its not just the search box, the Google/Firefox homepage also makes them money.

Nomar January 3, 2007 at 1:26 pm

wow,thats alot of money :|

but i use it to :) and i think FF may have it :)

Andrew January 3, 2007 at 1:43 pm

That’s crazy, I just figured the firefox team was fond of Google and encoded the search box. Glad to hear that FireFox is profitable in the end however.

Bryce January 3, 2007 at 1:53 pm

I think they deserve it for making a good browser, it shows that not everything has to be in your face for it to be successful. Imagine if Opera had took this model.

Nik Agarwal January 3, 2007 at 2:04 pm

Firefox is definitely a good browser, if not the best. Its good to hear that their hard efforts are paying off and giving them the ability to further a better browser even more.

HMTKSteve January 3, 2007 at 2:05 pm

This is hardly news John. Firefox has always been open about the deal they have with Google in regards to the search box.

What would be interesting to know is if the NEW IE7 has the same thing going on?

Also, what if you select a different search option, does FF still get money?

Please report on that John!

Vikas January 3, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Thats crazy. :)
But, good.

Raven Riley January 3, 2007 at 2:14 pm

I didn’t actually know that! I was wondering how they made their money..

Dale January 3, 2007 at 2:18 pm

I wouldn’t be surprised if the new IE7 had a similar thing going on. The more exposure for Google and their properties, the better (for Google, of course).

Andrew Chen January 3, 2007 at 2:20 pm

I didn’t know Firefox is making money that way. IE7 seems has the same thing. It has a search box in the tool bar that you customize to use different search provider. I don’t know whether it generates income for Microsoft though. I think I m going to look into it sometime and do post. Good information, John

John Chow January 3, 2007 at 2:38 pm

Steve – While it’s true many people know Firefox earns income this way, no one knew how they earned until today. Yes FF does get a cut if if you chose any of the other search engines from the list. However, most users leave it at Google.

IE makes income the same way, but since IE is own by MS (who provides the searches), all the money stays in the same place.

nsusa January 3, 2007 at 2:44 pm

I like Firefox, but it is not always the best choice. The memory leaks are really bad and I am surprised they still have not fixed those. It also has sometimes problem when testing web design if I select the URL with the Style ID included. It then defaults to the test style no matter if I call it in the URL or not. I use IE7 and FF in a 60/40 combination most of the time + sometimes Opera to do some testing.

Christoph

Andy January 3, 2007 at 2:46 pm

very Cool – I had no idea they made so much

David G. Lopez January 3, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Tabs are the best.

Andy January 3, 2007 at 3:06 pm

I hate tabs, I always get lost in new tabs and new windows

The new IE also copied the tabs idea and that is why I stock with the old IE

Gdog January 3, 2007 at 3:10 pm

Firefox is great, but it is a memory hog on my laptop for some reason…

Jez January 3, 2007 at 3:24 pm

Im really glad Mozilla are doing well, good product, stopped MS bending standards to their own will, and after the netscape thing they deserve a run for their money. A real embarrasment that so many Windoze users get firefox dispite having IE bundled.

As for making money from OS, the developers of Apache reportedly went on to become pretty rich, tho that was as developers on subsequent projects as opposed to making money directly off the software.

Its good that google are working with, and to a point supporting Mozilla, though Im sure their reasons are largely commercical

feverinlove January 3, 2007 at 3:48 pm

woa how do you get all this information? I also think they deserve it

John Chow January 3, 2007 at 3:54 pm

I got the info from Mitchell Baker’s blog. She is the Chairman of the Mozilla Foundation.

Kenric January 3, 2007 at 4:10 pm

That Google search returns results as if you were on the homepage compared to the adsense Google search boxes you put on your pages. How do they make money from the results? Is it from clicking the ads on the right?

Anon4 January 3, 2007 at 4:45 pm

I believe that google set up a very generous deal with mozilla to ensure the browser’s success.

$50 million is a small price to eat away at microsoft’s web pie.

Hannes January 3, 2007 at 4:58 pm

Wow, I had not heard about that. That’s a nice sum. Glad to hear they’re getting something for their efforts :)

But I did discover some time ago when I was looking at the code for the search plug-ins that they included their affiliate ID in the Amazon search engine.

By the way, John, are you sure your “comment subscription” plug-in is working? Because I’m subscribed to a couple of posts and I haven’t received any e-mail even though other people have commented after me…

StrangeProgress January 3, 2007 at 5:17 pm

Holy moly! Nice work Mozilla. I can’t believe I did not put two and two together regarding the search box/start page earnings. They’re welcome to do that in my opinion – well worth it to have a decent browser for free.

Matt

soj January 3, 2007 at 5:33 pm

Is this the only revenue source that Firefox have? Or do they bring in money from other places other than Google Search

John Chow January 3, 2007 at 5:43 pm

The bulk of the revenue was related to search engine relationships, with the remainder coming from a combination of contributions, sales from the Mozilla store, interest income, and other sources.

Michael Kwan January 3, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Andy: why do you hate tabs? I much prefer having them nice and neat in one window, rather than having fifteen different IE windows open.

Tony January 3, 2007 at 6:25 pm

Well this is why you get so much fighting between the vendors about browsers, and default search bars.

HMTKSteve January 3, 2007 at 6:32 pm

Since mozilla is “open source” when can we expect the “John Chow” version to come out? Then you can put your AdSense code in so that all Google searches make money for you!

Tony January 3, 2007 at 6:38 pm

Actually you don’t need to recompile a fork of Firefox’s source… a plug-in will be enough

https://addons.mozilla.org/search-engines.php

Will get much more usage as well.. though this will be ethically equivallent of clicking ads on your buddy’s blog.

Alex Becker January 3, 2007 at 6:46 pm

Firefox in my opinion is the best browser around.

Pallab January 3, 2007 at 7:03 pm

Opera also makes money in the same way (from desktop platform), now that they are a freeware. Opera has partnership with not only google but also other companies like adobe (adobe uses Opera’s rendering engine in their products) and about.com
Offcourse they have partnership with companies like nintendo, 4INFO, Mobilkoma and more in the mobile market.

It is a win win situation for users. However, on thing I would like to point out is that this works because of the large volume of users using Opera and Firefox. For a new company it will be difficult to be profitable using this business model. Opera could manage to become a freeware only about year and a half ago.

Ismu Surizan January 3, 2007 at 7:16 pm

wow … now i know how they pay $1 or less for referrals …
and they get even lot more …

Tyler January 3, 2007 at 7:40 pm

How could you not like tabbed browsing? Drives me insane to clutter up my task bar.

When IE7 was in beta I noticed that everytime you opened a new tab it actually opened a new instance of IE in the background. Ihad 5 tabs open, and 5 iexplore running in the background taking up at least 25Mb+ of memory.

I haven’t used IE7 since its final release so I am not sure if it still works this way.

At work I had to stop various computers from using IE7 because they changed their Alt-Key combinations and some of the things we do at work requires the Alt-Keys for certain tasks. MS remapped the Alt Keys in IE7 and it broke things good. So I went back to IE6 on production machines. Though I never had issues with Firefox.

Love Firefox too. Used to use Opera when it first came out but forget why I never stuck with it. Ah well

Dave January 3, 2007 at 8:13 pm

Wow, I was wondering how they earned that revenue…this makes sense though. To be honest, personally I never noticed that search box until it was pointed out in this post.

Tony January 3, 2007 at 8:42 pm

It’s possible that Firefox has sources from other such searches as well… When selecting the Search Engine from that drop-down list, there’s also Yahoo!, Amazon, eBay – all would gladly offer some CPA

Michael Kwan January 4, 2007 at 1:28 am

Tony: Yup, I’m sure they make money from those too (I use the Wikipedia and IMDB searches on there quite frequently), but their bread and butter has got to be Google, because I don’t know about you, but I not only use it for web searches, but also currency conversions, measurement conversions, calculations, definitions, directions, images, etc.

lionsense January 4, 2007 at 3:31 am

i don’t know if the number counts only ad revenue from google
if it did..
the total amount of money firefox made may be more because the default search engine for firefox in some asian countries..eg.taiwan, china.. is yahoo instead of google
i think firefox should have similar terms with yahoo as it has with google

feverinlove January 4, 2007 at 3:55 am

well, John you are visiting alot more blogs than I do :)

Stew January 4, 2007 at 2:37 pm

At what point if ever do you think Firefox will overtake IE? Do you think with the recent buyout that MSFF will be released as apposed to MSIE, or am I dreaming?

Andy January 4, 2007 at 3:15 pm

I dont know – there are way to many fans of IE

Raghu January 4, 2007 at 3:47 pm

After I have got to know of this in fact I have started to use more of the search in the tool bar…

John Chow January 4, 2007 at 4:48 pm

While the majority of readers on this blog use Firefox, I don’t see that happening across the Internet. I believe MS still controls 85% of the browser market. Then there are people like me who run both.

lionsense January 4, 2007 at 11:38 pm

yea..many people are using IE
many of my friends think IE=Web browser

Jane January 14, 2007 at 7:00 pm

That just goes to show you how many different avenues you can take the internet in making it profitable.

Stephen Fowler February 2, 2007 at 4:00 pm

Thanks for that insight, I may be down the bottom on this post but I just want to say that is incredible I had no idea.

So I just have to add you to my Google reader, i do not want to miss another gem

Cheers

MeTwo February 16, 2007 at 2:57 am

And extension developers, who, in many cases, add a great deal of value to Firefox, don’t see a cent of that huge chunk-o-change.