"We're Kinda Worried About the Monopoly Thing"

Josh Wright —  20 April 2009

That’s from Firefox chief software architect Mike Connor in an interview with PCPro.  Here’s an excerpt suggesting that Mozilla fears that its recent success might lead to antitrust liability in the United States or elsewhere:

Firefox has only just tipped past the 20% mark in worldwide browser market share, and is still a long way away from achieving the 90%+ market share that Internet Explorer enjoyed in its heyday.

Yet, Firefox has a market share of more than 50% in some countries and is hugely popular among PC enthusiasts: Firefox was used by around 40% of visitors to PCPro.co.uk last month, and Connor claims the browser is used by about 80% of visitors to Digg.com.

Connor admits the prospect of achieving monopoly status – defined as two thirds of the market in the US – has been a topic of discussion at Mozilla HQ.

Perhaps there are too such things as false positives.

Its an interesting article (see also here) especially in light of the recent EU investigation of Microsoft’s bundling of IE to the operating system.  Connor also commented that Firefox did not want to be bundled with Windows as a remedy.  The most interesting line of all was that Opera’s complaint that bundling had harmed competition in the browser market was “provably false” because it is “asserting that bundling leads to market share” and “I don’t know how you can make that claim with a straight face.”

It is unknown whether Mozilla Foundation chairperson Mitchell Baker was straight-faced when he wrote this post supporting the EU’s investigation of IE bundling an, of course, offering Mozilla’s assistance in crafting the appropriate remedial response.   The most curious line in Baker’s post, however, is the rebuttal to the proposition that Mozilla’s increasing share across the world is evidence of a competitive marketplace or at least one would not impede equally efficient competitors:

Equally important, the success of Mozilla and Firefox does not indicate a healthy marketplace for competitive products. Mozilla is a non-profit organization; a worldwide movement of people who strive to build the Internet we want to live in. I am convinced that we could not have been, and will not be, successful except as a public benefit organization living outside the commercial motivations. And I certainly hope that neither the EU nor any other government expects to maintain a healthy Internet ecosystem based on non-profits stepping in to correct market deficiencies.

Leaving aside the bit about the non-profit worldwide movement “living outside commercial motivations”, wouldn’t this claim cut the opposite direction.  That is, if bundling IE couldn’t even exclude from the marketplace an apparently spontaneous collective invariant to the profit motive then surely the mere presence of the bundle couldn’t exclude a greedy, profit-seeking rival could it?  I’m not suggesting this is the appropriate way to think about the antitrust analysis here.  But I find the line of argument curious and likely counterproductive.

One response to "We're Kinda Worried About the Monopoly Thing"

  1. 

    One thought:

    If people choose to use Firefox just because of its zero cost and anti-Microsoft sentiment, then it is possible that the success of Firefox is due to its non-profit nature.

    Think about the success of Wikipedia, and imagine how would it be if Wiki decides to charge users certain fees or put ads near the contents? Will this increase Wiki’s popularity?