Mozilla dumps Yandex as default search for Russian Firefox

Last year's $900M global deal with Google forces Mozilla to swap search engines

Mozilla will drop Russian search giant Yandex as the default search engine for Russian-language versions of Firefox beginning with next month's Firefox 14, according to Mozilla.

Yandex, Russia's most-popular search company, will be replaced by Google when Firefox 14 ships July 17. A beta of Firefox 14, however, launched on Thursday with Google as the first-ranked search engine.

The switch was triggered by the multi-year agreement that Mozilla and Google struck last year, Mozilla's chief counsel said Saturday.

"We recently selected Google as the default search partner for Firefox," noted Harvey Anderson in a message posted on Bugzilla, Mozilla's bug- and change-tracking database. "These arrangements are often global in nature; consequently, we were not able to keep Yandex as the default search provider in the Firefox Russian builds."

The Bugzilla entry was started June 5 to track the change to Firefox 14 required by the search swap.

A Yandex spokesman echoed Anderson.

"We believe that the reason behind [this change] was Mozilla's deal with Google," said Vladimir Isaev, manager of international media relations, in a Sunday email reply to questions.

In December, Mozilla and Google announced a new three-year contract that sets Google as the default search tool for Firefox. Although each company declined to detail the financial arrangements, reports claimed that Google had guaranteed Mozilla $300 million annually.

That amount, if accurate, would be nearly triple what Google paid Mozilla in 2010, the last year for which the browser maker has released revenue data.

According to Yandex, Mozilla notified it of the search change on June 1.

"We have [a] global partnership agreement with Mozilla and the default search in Russian version of Firefox is a part of it," said Isaev. "The agreement will expire on December 31, 2012. According to the agreement, Mozilla can change the default search [at] any time."

Yandex has been the default search engine for the Russian-language edition of Firefox since early 2009, when Mozilla said it would use the Russian company's search after considering user feedback and consulting with the contributors who localized the browser for Russian speakers.

Mozilla's move caught some of its own Russian employees and contributors by surprise.

"Right now it looks like [a] one-way move driven not by users or not for users...because there is not any discussion related to this change or even [a] survey like what search engine users prefer or willing to change," said Konstantin Lepikhov in a June 5 message on the Bugzilla thread. Leipkhov's LinkedIn profile lists him as both a system administrator at Yandex and a project coordinator at Mozilla. That's not unusual, as companies sometimes dedicate all or part of employees' time to working with Mozilla on Firefox.

Alexander Slovesnik, who contributes to localizing Firefox for Russia, chimed in a well.

"There is nothing that explains this sudden change of default search engine in Firefox from most popular search provider to some other search provider," Slovesnik wrote, also on Bugzilla. "This situation doesn't help to build credibility and trust in Mozilla among Russian community of Firefox users."

Anderson tried to address those complaints as well.

"Both Yandex and Google are public companies and it is not always possible to share in detail the arrangements and discussions between the parties," Anderson said. "Given these constraints, we did not deem it possible to socialize this with the community in advance as we might normally do. This is an unfortunate reality that we are bound by despite our goal to collaborate with the community as transparently as possible."

Russian users of Firefox 14 and later can change the default Google to another search engine, including Yandex, by accessing the list in the search bar.

Both Anderson and Isaev said that Yandex would continue to develop a customized version of Firefox that sets its own search engine as the default.

Mozilla just updated Firefox worldwide to version 13 last week. Windows, Mac and Linux editions of Firefox 13 can be downloaded manually from Mozilla's site, while current users will be offered the upgrade through the browser's own update mechanism.

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.

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