Microsoft the Patron Saint of Firefox?

Saw the news today that the Russian version of Firefox was dumping Google, switching to aRussian search engine called Yandex. This caught myeye as recently I’ve been contemplating how the industry wouldreact to Microsoft taking over, effectively, the sponsorship of theFirefox project.

For those unaware, the Mozilla foundation gets almost 90% of itsincome — used to pay developers, run servers, do marketing, and soon — from Google: $75 million dollars in 2007 (along with somechump change from Yahoo and Amazon). This isn’t an act of charity,though, and for its payment Google gets default start page space,is the default search provider, and of course gets attributed witha lot of goodwill throughout the industry for helping to keep theproject alive and robust.

Now that Google is strongly pushing their own browser, however,the relationship isn’t quite as solid. Shortly before Chrome’srelease the contract was extended through to 2011 — probably bysome concerned players that wanted to stop any NIHism fromundoing what they had achieved — but that’s just two measly yearsand will pass before most people realize.

The Russian deal seems to be one sign that the Mozillafoundation is soberly planning ahead.

And while they’re considering who might step in if Googledecides to bow out, they might look towards the most unlikelypartner of all: Microsoft.

Increasingly Microsoft has been embracing Firefox as a platform,with various divisions working towards more than just locking youinto Windows (which has perverted the cause of many Microsoftproducts for years, destroying potential greatness). Given therelatively pathetic progress of Internet Explorer, I’d go so far asto say that they’ve put more work into pulling Firefox into thefold than they have improving their own browser.

It’s chump change for Microsoft (despite all of the doom andgloom stories about Microsoft, the reality is that they are stilldisgustingly profitable), it would buy them a tremendous amount ofgoodwill, it would give their ignored Live Search (haven’t theyabandoned the whole Live thing yet I’m waiting for the next waveof inane branding synergies from that marketing midget) someattention, and it would give them a voice on the project that ismost likely to continue to enrich and improve the web. Yet itwouldn’t give then undue influence or control on this project,which we know because even Google was held away from the reigns ofpower (which presumably is why they wanted to let Mozilla use theirball while they went and bought another ball and built their owncourt.)