Mozilla to press ahead on in-Firefox ad plans

At the same time, reassures users that the browser won't become 'a mess of logos'

Mozilla last week said it would press forward on plans to put advertisements on Firefox's new tab page, but reassured users that the browser would not become "a mess of logos."

In a May 9 blog, Johnathan Nightingale, vice president of engineering at Mozilla, acknowledged that the February announcement that it would insert ads in its flagship browser had not been well received. But the company has no intention of dropping the idea.

"We will experiment," Nightingale said. "In the coming weeks, we'll be landing tests on our pre-release channels to see whether we can make things like the new tab page more useful, particularly for fresh installs of Firefox, where we don't yet have any recommendations to make from your history. We'll test a mix of our own sites and other useful sites on the Web. We'll mess with the layout."

Three months ago, Mozilla announced a project it called "Directory Tiles" that would put pre-selected tiles, some of them sponsored -- advertisements, in other words -- on the browser's new tab page. For long-time Firefox users, that page, which has room for nine thumbnails, shows each user's most-frequently-visited websites. Someone new to Firefox would see nothing, so to jump-start the experience Mozilla will fill the spots itself.

When it unveiled the project and later defended it from critics, Mozilla executives said the ads were necessary to diversify the company's revenue sources, which currently rely almost entirely on deals with several search firms, most notably Google.

Payments from Google accounted for 90% of all Mozilla revenue in 2012, the last year for which it has published financial figures.

Nightingale assured Firefox users that the ads would not overwhelm the browser, or fly in the face of Mozilla's user-first philosophy. "[People] worried that we were going to turn Firefox into a mess of logos sold to the highest bidder; without user control, without user benefit," Nightingale said. "That's not going to happen. That's not who we are at Mozilla."

The long silence between February's and last week's messages from Mozilla may have been due to the crisis the browser maker dealt with in March when it appointed Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript, as its new CEO. The selection was blasted by employees, outside observers and developers, who criticized Eich for contributing to a California anti-gay marriage ballot proposition in 2008.

Eich stepped down in early April. Chris Beard, who was Mozilla's chief marketing officer when he left the company in mid-2013, was named as interim CEO.

When Mozilla begins placing ads in Firefox's new tab page, it will be following in the footsteps of Opera Software. The Norwegian browser maker sells entries in "Speed Dial" -- Opera's name for its new tab page -- to third-party content providers.

"Speed Dial allows you to promote services with direct, one-click access to websites, and a customized thumbnail serves as a visual tease to push your logo or content to users," Opera Software touts on its site.

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

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