But in trying to build on this success, the Mozilla Foundation has come to resemble an investor-backed Silicon Valley start-up more than a scrappy collaborative underdog. Siobhan O'Mahony, an assistant professor at the School of Management of the University of California, Davis, calls Mozilla "the first corporate open-source project."
The foundation has used a for-profit subsidiary, the Mozilla Corporation, to collect tens of millions of dollars in royalties from search engine companies that want prominent placement on the browser. And by collecting that money as a war chest to compete against giants like Microsoft and Apple, the foundation has, at least temporarily, moved away from the typical activities of a nonprofit organization.
"The Mozilla community has been a bit hybrid in terms of integrating public and private investment all along--its history is fairly unique in this respect," professor O'Mahony said.
So far, the many contributors to Firefox seem pleased with its financial success. The bigger question is what Mozilla will do with all its money.
According to Mozilla's 2006 financial records, which were recently released, the foundation had $74 million in assets, the bulk invested in mutual funds and the like, and last year it collected $66 million in revenue. Eighty-five percent of that revenue came from a single source--Google, which has a royalty contract with Firefox.