Mozilla mulls desktop search integration for Firefox

The browser's backers hope to build on its momentum

Having launched the much-awaited Version 1.0 of the Firefox browser yesterday (see story), The Mozilla Foundation is busy planning enhancements to the open-source product, including the possibility of integrating it with a variety of desktop search tools. The Mozilla Foundation also wants to place Firefox in PCs through reseller deals with PC hardware vendors and continue to sharpen the product's pop-up ad-blocking technology.

These and other coming features, such as graphics display improvements, will help Firefox to continue building the already considerable momentum it has generated so it can capture 10% to 12% of the Web browser market by some point next year, said Chris Hofmann, The Mozilla Foundation's engineering director. "We believe there's room for a lot of growth for Firefox's market share, and there's a number of things we need to do to continue on this growth curve," he said.

For many years, Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer had held around 95% of the Web browser market. But this year, it has been slowly but consistently losing ground, while Firefox has emerged as a fast-growing alternative, Web metrics company WebSideStory Inc. reported last week. At the end of October, Internet Explorer had a 92.9% market share, while Firefox had secured a 3% share through its preview versions, according to San Diego-based WebSideStory (see story).

Regarding integration with desktop search tools, the idea would be to offer Firefox users a choice of third-party tools for searching information stored on their PCs, Hofmann said.

"We see a lot of growth with the integration of searching Web sites and searching your desktop ... so we'll be looking at ways to try and integrate that search within the browser, to make more seamless how users go searching for information, whether on the Internet or their computer," Hofmann said.

Desktop search is one of the hottest areas in the search market, as users look for tools that let them find information on their PCs with the same ease and speed of Internet search engines. Thus, multiple high-profile vendors either provide or plan to provide tools for conducting desktop searches.

For example, Google Inc. recently introduced one such tool, while America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. have separately acknowledged that they're developing their own wares. Microsoft for years has bundled hard disk searching functionality with its Windows operating system, but the technology has generally been considered clunky, and the company is expected to offer an enhanced alternative in the near future. In the meantime, vendors such as X1 Technologies Inc., Copernic Technologies Inc. and Blinkx already offer desktop search tools.

"There are a variety of companies that are working on that technology, and we may just try and identify a way for Firefox to plug into a variety of desktop search engines and enable users to pick and choose," Hofmann said.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based Mozilla Foundation will also continue to boost Firefox's pop-up ad blocker, a key feature to make users' browsing experiences better, he said. These types of disruptive ads are generally considered a nuisance by browser users. "We want to stay ahead of the curve of Web sites that like to inject pop-ups, so we'll continue to improve our pop-up blocker" in future Firefox upgrades, Hoffman said.

Clearly, signing deals with PC makers to bundle Firefox with their machines would be important in accelerating the distribution and adoption of the browser, and The Mozilla Foundation is working on getting such deals done, Hofmann said. He declined to comment further on which PC vendors might be involved.

Beyond Firefox, The Mozilla Foundation will continue to work on other Internet software, such as its Thunderbird e-mail client, which is in preview Version 0.9 right now and whose 1.0 version should ship later this month, Hofmann said. Also in the works is calendar software.

The Mozilla Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in July 2003 to support the Mozilla open-source software project launched by Netscape Communications Corp. in 1998. Firefox 1.0 can be obtained from www.mozilla.org as a free download or in CD format with a manual for $14.95.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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