Mozilla banked $274M in '12 from Google-Firefox search deal

Google kicked twice as much to browser rival in 2012 than the year before

Mozilla today said that income from search partners jumped 88% last year, with the portion attributed to its 2011 deal with browser rival Google increasing by even more.

The Mozilla Foundation's 2012 revenue was $311 million, up 90% from the year before and more than triple what it recorded in 2009, according to the financial statement released Thursday (download PDF).

Mozilla Foundation is the not-for-profit organization that oversees Mozilla Corp., the commercial arm that develops Firefox for desktop and notebook PCs and Macs, and Android smartphones, as well as the newer Firefox OS mobile operating system.

As in years past, virtually all the foundation's 2012 revenue came from search providers, which paid for leading Firefox users to their websites. In 2012, those royalty payments accounted for 98% of the year's income, a slightly-lower portion than in the last four years.

Royalty revenue totaled $305 million in 2012, almost double 2011's $162 million.

The foundation's reliance on Google also continued, with the organization stating that 90% of all royalties stemmed from the Mountain View, Calif. company whose Chrome browser competes with Firefox on the desktop and mobile platforms. In 2011, Google's contribution accounted for 85% of all royalties.

Payments from Google in 2012 were approximately $274 million, an increase of 99% over 2011's $138 million.

That number comes close to matching the $300 million annually due Mozilla under a 2011 contract between it and Google that had set a minimum of just under $1 billion over the deal's three-year run. Google promised to pay Mozilla that amount to keep its search engine as the default in Firefox. 2012 was the first full year under the new contract.

In its financial statement, the Mozilla Foundation did not name its largest source of income, saying only that, "Mozilla entered into a contract with a search engine provider for royalties which expires November 2014."

The 90% of royalties attributed to Google in 2012 was the most since 2008, when the foundation said Google accounted for 91% of that critical revenue stream.

Most of Mozilla's expenses -- 71% in 2012 -- were devoted to software development, which increased as a line item by 45% year-over-year, although the percentage remained flat.

The foundation's financials appear to be in good shape. Cash, cash equivalents and the organization's investments totaled $268 million in 2012, up 38% from the year before. With that in the bank, Mozilla could continue at its 2012 expense pace for about five quarters if, for example, Google did not renew its contract in November 2014 and no other search engine stepped forward to take Google's place.

Yet Mozilla faces almost as hard a road as it did this time last year, when it issued its 2011 financial statement.

Firefox's share of the desktop browser market has slipped by 9%, or about 1.5 percentage points, in the past 12 months, according to analytics company Net Applications, even as the desktop's share of all browsing has slid because of a trend toward more browsing on mobile devices.

And Firefox OS, while a laudable effort, struggles to gain traction, even among the lowest-priced smartphones that dominate sales in developing countries, where Android remains the overwhelming OS of choice for handset makers.

Overall, some believe, Mozilla's influence has peaked, in large part because its original mission -- to insure that an alternative existed to Microsoft's once-dominant Internet Explorer (IE) -- has been such a success.

"Mozilla's influence has been waning," argued Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder in an earlier interview.

Google royalties
Google's payments to Mozilla jumped 99% in 2012 to over $274 million, confirming reports two years ago that the companies had signed a three-year deal worth almost $1 billion under which Firefox uses google.com as its default search provider. (Date: Mozilla Foundation.)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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