Interview with Mitchell Baker: Part 2

Interview with Mitchell Baker: Part 2
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First Published: Mon, Nov 17 2008. 10 48 AM IST

Updated: Mon, Nov 17 2008. 10 49 AM IST
Kamla: This is Kamla Bhatt. We bring you part 2 of our conversation with Mitchell Baker, Chairperson of Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation. In part 2, she talks about Mozilla’s relationship with Google and the success of Firefox. Here is Mitchell.
Kamla: Tell us about your relationship with Google. You have a revenue sharing relationship with Google and you recently renewed an agreement that goes on till 2010?
Mitchell: 2011.
Kamla: 2011. Now this will ensure income stability for you but what about Google’s Chrome and what impact will it have on the relationship because there is a sense among certain people in the community that the folks that’ll switch to chrome will come from the Firefox group.
Mitchell:. That’s a set of related questions.. The first one is what impact does the revenue relationship have on the product or what impact does Chrome have on the revenue relationship. You know, I’ve said for many years that we keep the revenue relationship with Google separate from our product. And it sounds naïve I think people don’t actually believe me that the revenue relationship is unrelated to our product and we don’t talk about the development of Firefox with Google and there’s no feature or product review or vetting because we have this revenue relationship. They are quite separate. So that remains true.
So as to Firefox, the revenue relationship is irrelevant to what the product is or becomes. We’ll develop Firefox as best we can; as we think best.
Firefox has a large share of the early adopters among its users and so I think we all expect that many of those early adopters will go look at Chrome. We expect most of them will come back. And there’s a bunch of reasons for those but clearly some will stay. We expect Chrome to have some market share; we don’t actually expect it to like be a giant or take-off or any of those things but it will certainly have some market share.
And it is quite possible that the early- the first few shares, the first few points of market share come from Firefox. I’m not sure that’s any body’s particular goal and we intent to win back, or we we get those users. But you know that’s quite likely.
You know, we expect that some of thse people may stay with Chrome for-I don’t know; release, two releases, whatever and come back. So we’re not actually particularly worried about losing many of our users.
But as you point out, we do recognize that there is this very early adopter curve that may bounce around and certainly look at Chrome. And I think that we’re seeing already that there is a sort of jump in Chrome market share and looks lower already so we think we’re seeing some of that pattern already.
We expect to see some very clever and very interesting ideas coming out of Google. I mean, let’s hope so! They’ve got as much money as they possibly want to spend on this project. They’ve got very, very smart people. They’ve got a bunch of expertise about web applications and what people do with them. Certainly more data than all the rest of us about what people do with the web. So with all those resources, if they can’t combine those resources and come up with some interesting ideas then, shame of them! But we don’t expect that. We expect to see some good ideas. We hope to see some good ideas. We are at the beginning of an extra-ordinary interesting period in development of the internet.
The thing about browsers is that good ideas travel back and forth. So if Google’s got big ideas, great! It’s good for all of us. We’ve had good ideas too. We’re just like tabs are now on every modern browser. If Google comes up with good idea- I should probably say when because it will be shocking if they didn’t have some great ones in there.
That would benefit all of them. But our plan is not to sort of chase.
Our plan is to look and say, okay what’s really useful. And some of those ideas might be very interesting if you’re Google or if you live in Google or if all your applications are Google or all your data lives in Google. Maybe it’s a great idea but for many of us that’s not the life that we are living where we are totally- we only live in a Google world and we only want to live in a Google world. So we have an interesting idea: we will take and we’ll filter them through what’s good for innovation for all business models, what’s good for Google applications and everybody else’s applications, what’s good so that I as a human being can move among applications if I want to. How do we take those interesting ideas and use them to promote the values of different business models, different businesses, different centers of innovation and different choices.
Did I capture all your questions?
Kamla: Yes. It also brought another question in my mind because you’re talking, you’re pointing out the difference between open source programming and it comes with its own ecosystem of users and believers. There is also the opposite argument made that- the proprietary argument that there are companies such as Google who have the money; they make the proprietary kind of applications, they may do a much better job of what you’re trying to do of Firefox. You know, of what you’re trying to do with Firefox.
Mitchell: Oh, I don’t think so.
Kamla: No?
Mitchell: No. I don’t think so. It’s depends on what you think we’re trying to do with Firefox so – what do you think we’re trying to do with Firefox?
Kamla: I have no idea.
Mitchell: I think this might be a question: Google is the powerhouse of the Internet era unquestionably. Google could potentially be a formidable competitor- like how do you see the resources lining up. So Google has some great resources. They have financial resources . They are pretty hard to touch. They’ve got lots of smart people and the ability to hire smart people and you know lots of room to make acquisitions and Google brand and money for press.
But that’s not so daunting to us as people think. So think about our history. We took on this space when Microsoft had more money than anybody could imagine and probably still does, more people and more smart people as resources that we could ever afford to hire at Mozilla, more money for distribution than anyone in the world and the only real distribution channel! All the OEMs, all the PC OEMs.
So we have already taken on and been successful in a much harder competitive setting than what Google presensst. I mean Google has, what- 1%? –not even that, 0 % market share two months ago. And, a Google name and a Google brand. We took on the space when Microsoft had 97% of the market and as much money and smart people then as Google has today. So it’s never been an easy market space and it has never been an easy competitive space. So that’s the first thing.
Second thing is that you know- getting people to use a new browser is not easy and it’s hard to pay people to do that. But people change browsers when it’s really important to them, when it really matters to them and when as in the Mozilla case, there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who make it happen. We have close to 200 million users. We see like 60 million users a day. We have almost no distribution on PC OEMs. That’s 200 million people who have individually made a choice to replace their browser. That’s not because they’re getting paid. That’s because of the people around the world who are involved in Firefox who trust it, who understand why we’re making it and have gone on and put it on people’s machines. Now Google can’t buy that! They can buy many things with distribution but they can’t buy what’s made Firefox and Mozilla successful.
So we have a set of resources and options and brand assets and human capital assets that are unmatchable. And money doesn’t buy them. So Google has great assets and resources but so do we.
Kamla: There is that perception again that Google is trying to do the same thing that Microsoft did ten years ago when you talked about the monoculture and how Web 2.0 could have happened a lot earlier-had it not been for Microsoft’s monopoly. How is Google different?
Mitchell: First of all, Google’s different because Microsoft created a setting in which they had 99% market share on the OS and 97% across the border, operating system, browser and desktop productivity apps.. We have not seen Google remotely approach that setting now. And I know that the Google relationship with Yahoo and Microsoft feels unbalanced. Like Google is clearly winning and that’s true! But imagine what it would be like if Google were 97% market share holder.
Second thing is that Google’s DNA is clearly about the web. And I- about the movement of information around the web which can’t all be controlled so I think their DNA is different than Microsoft’s. But certainly there are concerns is that as Google grows and has more and more applications and more and more data about people and more and more ability to correlate that data which I am not sure that they do. But, certainly there are concerns that Google’s becoming not just the powerhouse of our era but a monolith. You certainly can’t toss them off, I think. You know it’s always worth watching. You know Google I think will speak to this and I think they understand the concern. They understand that people are watching so to some extent it is a slightly different setting and I don’t think it ever mattered what Microsoft did or it never seem to matter. So, I think watching and demanding and continued appropriate behaviour out of Google is pretty important.
Kamla: Let’s switch to the success of Firefox. You know, mass collaboration is never an easy venture. There have been spectacular failures and spectacular success. And Firefox which came out in 2004 was a spectacular success. What went e right for Firefox and what made the difference and what continues to make a difference in the success of Firefox?
Mitchell: First, building the software’s hard; it doesn’t matter what development technique you choose, it’s hard enough in any case, especially good consumer software. So, open is hard, closed is hard with good software. For Firefox, a couple of things lined up at the right time. First of all, it’s an important product. We talked about it earlier, how important it is. Not only was it important but the options were all bad so people had a reason to look at something different. Three, we had the right product. So how do you get the right product? Sometimes it is the right people, sometimes it is luck, sometimes it is process. We rely somewhat on the right people and a lot on the right process-those two together which we had in Firefox and certainly we still do because if you look at Firefox 3 it really is a great browser; maybe the best that we’ve ever seen. So how do we do it? It’s more art than science. It is a combination of having someone who can make decisions with a very open system for getting new ideas and dissent and getting multiple perspectives filtered into the system and then vet it through some decision making process.
So we don’t want consensus, we don’t want a committee, we don’t want everybody to get what they want because then you don’t have a good coherent product. You need a decision maker who has a good aesthetic and a good understanding of the product. Those are rare and hard to find. So it’s that combination of good design and good sense with this giant range of input. And we have many mechanisms for taking that input and making sure it’s not chaotic and channeling it in the right way and testing ideas out, But at heart, that’s the right combination.
Kamla: Interestingly most of the Firefox users are not in the US but outside of the US. For instance, in India, there are millions of Firefox users. How are you reaching out to them? What are you doing in terms of localization of Firefox?
Mitchell: Well, we’ve always had an active localization community. In fact, I think Firefox is probably the leader in bringing real time, multiple language releases into consumer software. We have an odd way of doing this. We rely on local groups of people, volunteers to create the special aspects that are necessary. So, we localize both in language, menu items and so on but also for locale meaning we make sure the engine goes to the right place and various other parts of the products should be tuned and not just to a language but to the way you are. I think Firefox One shipped in maybe 20 languages, which is astonishing. You know, we were 15 people working full time in Firefox One shift so – and in our case, it’s 20 languages and three platforms. So, sixty versions at one moment- its hard to do.
Firefox 3 was in 48 languages and so that’s pretty rare. And it’s important to us not just because the product exists in another language but the community of people who create it feel an ownership interest and I don’t mean ownership economically. I mean “engaging” like Firefox is theirs. So if you go to Slovakia and you talk to the team, Firefox is “theirs” and so that means that we get a sense of what needs to happen to make it fit that locale that is very strong. We get a very demanding group of people because fitting into a release schedule or a piece of software like a browser is hard. The schedules are just brutal. It takes a lot of hard work, and so by the time people have invested that, and feel like this local version is theirs, they are very demanding and they demand certain things of us. And they are right to do that. It forces us to build the central capabilities to help localizers maybe faster than when we would on our own. Because remember these folks aren’t employees. So you don’t have any tools to promote this level of engagement except the thing they want to see-which is a product that works for this locale. And so they push us very hard. And that’s good for all of us. So that gives us a community of people and then that is the community of people that we can learn from and talk to and find out what else to do in that locale.
Kamla: You were listening to Mitchell Baker, Chairperson of Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation. Tune back in for part 3 of our conversation where she talks about localization efforts in India and what surprises, delights and concerns her about the future of the internet.
This is Kamla Bhatt. This interview was brought to you in association with Livemint Radio. And as always, thank you for tuning in.
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First Published: Mon, Nov 17 2008. 10 48 AM IST