Mozilla, the nonprofit organization that created the open source Firefox browser — the chief competitor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer — is setting up shop in China in the hope of claiming a sizable chunk of the world’s second-largest Internet market.
Firefox, a popular browser among techies, is used by roughly 11 percent of U.S. Web surfers, having gained significant market share since its launch in 2004.
Although the browser has a slight presence in China, the organization is banking on the new Beijing office to increase its profile.
The Mozilla Foundation has enjoyed nearly three years of success following the release of its revolutionary Firefox browser. The underdog has been able to eat into Microsoft’s IE market share by pitching itself as safer and more secure.
However, recent numbers from several firms suggest that growth has stagnated, even dipping on several occasions. This may be one reason Mozilla is looking toward China.
“There defiantly is a sizable community there,” Craig Roth, Burton Group vice president and service director, told LinuxInsider.
Mozilla’s browsers are currently used by approximately 80 million to 100 million users globally and about 1 million in China.
However, Microsoft’s user base dwarfs the nonprofit’s fan base. More than 100 million people have installed Internet Explorer 7, Redmond said last month, making it the second most-used browser in the United States — trailing only its own Internet Explorer 6.
“With Vista, those numbers are likely to increase,” said Roth.
China is the world’s second-largest Internet market after the United States, with around 137 million users.
Mozilla employs 100 staff worldwide, but claims a much larger community of volunteers who work on the open source Linux operating system on which Firefox is based.
The idea behind open source platforms is that users can copy and modify the software freely, while developers provide technical support. Internet Explorer is paid-for, proprietary software.
Mozilla says its move to China is to educate the country’s open source developers and to adapt the technology to suit local tastes. If the aim is to become “Mozilla with Chinese characteristics,” Roth sees the abundance of programmers there as one possible reason the organization is pushing into the market.
“Maybe they are looking for more help to develop their browser,” he said.
Another reason the Mozilla move makes sense, said Roth, is that with recent crackdowns, it’s becoming more dangerous to use pirated software in China — and with proprietary software prices rising, adopting free and open source tools might be an attractive alternative.
Mozilla already has an office in Tokyo and is looking to develop the Chinese market to match its 9 percent share in Japan.
“Not an unrealistic goal,” said Roth.