Last week, the Policy, Legal and Business Development teams had a 2-day get-together, and one thing I came to understand much more clearly is something I think that many Mozillians need to take to heart: success is not inevitable.
For the first few years of Mozilla’s life, we didn’t have much success. Then, a combination of good code, good grassroots marketing, sleeping or absent competitors and favourable market conditions saw Firefox take off and reach a desktop market share north of 25%. That was five years ago, and we’ve been trying to hold on to it since. We haven’t entirely succeeded, but it might be easy to imagine that Firefox on the desktop will be around and relevant forever.
But working really hard, and knowing that what you are doing is the right thing for the world, are not enough by themselves to guarantee that you succeed. There’s no law of the universe which says that Google have to keep giving us a search deal on better (or even the same) terms, particularly if our market share falls. That may happen, or it may not. And there’s no law which says that Firefox OS has to be a success. If what we build isn’t the right thing, carriers will stop stocking and promoting Firefox OS phones, and the world will be left with a choice of Apple, Google or Microsoft.
Mozilla’s way of working has always been to get market share by making great products, and use that to make our voice heard. We aren’t an advocacy-only organization.
Back when we did Firefox, our future, and our ability to get that market share, was in our own hands. If we wrote great software, users could download and install it themselves, and that was it. No-one was stopping consumers from installing any software they wanted. No-one was stopping OEMs from shipping copies of Firefox with their machines. We didn’t have to worry about proprietary hardware. There were no web features which couldn’t be implemented in open source code.
In the new world, our future and our ability to gain market share are not entirely in our own hands. We need partnerships to reach consumers. Business partnerships involve giving someone something they want in return for something you want, and they mean that usually you don’t get everything you want, but have to compromise. The need to partner and the need to compromise are relatively new and difficult things for Mozilla. Such agreements often come with obligations – which, in its most general form, is the loss of the ability to choose exactly what we are going to do because we are constrained by our promises. As an organization, particularly as an engineering organization, we don’t like that.
But operators are only going to carry and promote Firefox OS phones if they think it’s in their best interests to do so. And consumers are only going to buy them if they think they are better for what they want to do than the alternatives. “Why this rather than Android?” is a question to which we need a good answer.
If we want Firefox OS to be a success, we need partners, and we need to provide what those partners want, while holding on to our principles. What they want may well not be “software for us”, or even “software for people we know”. And that means we need to listen to the people within Mozilla who talk to them and report back to us. That’s the Business Development team – who currently have a pretty low community profile. Perhaps that needs to change.
Success is not inevitable – but it is still possible, if we carry on producing software that succeeds in the market. But how we find out what that means has changed, and we as Mozilla need to make sure we adapt to that, and listen in the right places.
I think one of the areas Mozilla may have went wrong in terms of market share was not forming relationships with OEM’s and bundling Firefox in computers the moment that Chrome began to, though monetary considerations might have been an issue with this. Everyone, but the most tech savy people who use Chrome over Firefox I talk to tell me they use it because their computer came with it or that they didn’t know the difference.
I think monetary considerations would have been a big issue here. OEMs get paid for every piece of bloatware loaded onto your new Windows PC, which is why Windows PCs can be as cheap as or cheaper than Linux PCs even when the OEM has to pay for an OS license. The only value we could offer to an OEM for shipping Firefox was “you will be providing software your users might like” and in many cases, as we can see from their other software choices, that’s not necessarily their first priority.
I suspect it was decided we didn’t have enough money to pay for market share in that way.
It’s hard to tell how successful Firefox OS is at the moment because hardly any data is available on it’s market penetration (even after it’s been out a year?). But I suspect with Microsoft, Google, BlackBerry, even Apple are targeting the low end, BRIC markets too they’re are running into problems.
Firefox OS’s selling point was running on very low end phones but with KitKat Android (the biggest incumbent at this point) has quickly adopted that selling point as well. So then Mozilla’s response is $25 Smartphone but what’s to keep Android from doing this too?
It looks to me like Firefox OS devices aren’t able to offer value to consumers other than a cheaper price. Firefox didn’t compete on price because Internet Explorer was also free. It actually had to compete by being superior in some way.
Not that success has to follow the same path it did the first time. But I think Mozilla should really be throwing everything they have at Mobile. That means making a iPhone browser. That means offering a new class of Android browser. Link Bubble, Opera Coast, Javelin all offer cool features that were designed for the mobile experience. Mozilla might need to start from scratch to come up with something better.
How is Firefox OS better than Android with Google Play, Maps, Hangouts and Now? It might be better than AOSP but what about the actual commercial products that people are using today?
Just because OEMs and Carriers don’t want Android to be the only choice doesn’t mean they’ll actually stop it from happening. The only thing that can stop Android is Google or a new market shift. The last major one happened entirely in response to Apple’s products (iPhone/iPad).
I think success for Mozilla will lay with looking to the internet. Making a killer Web site/Web app. Maybe significantly investing in doing things with, Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding, Blockchain technology (Cryptocurrencies, Distributed Autonomous Organizations etc.), Social Networking, Sharing Economy (Lyft, Couchsurfing, Etsy, Taskrabbit etc.). Take advantage of the things Google will likely not get involved in for a awhile and really take them far than anyone else. As one of the pioneers and benefactors of Viral Marketing using the internet to supercharge their business is familiar territory for Mozilla.
I know. Money is always a major obsticle. If I could opt in to some for of advertising via an extension where all proceeds went to Mozilla, I’d do it. I seriously wonder whether such an effort would even be able to break even though because many of the open source activists seem to be anti-advertising.