Feb 14, 2023
Erase browser history: can AI reset the browser battle?
Hello and welcome to Decoder. I’m Nilay Patel, editor in chief of The Verge, and Decoder is my show about big ideas, and other problems.
Today, I'm talking to Mitchell Baker, the chairwoman and CEO of Mozilla, the organization behind the Firefox browser, the Thunderbird email client, the Pocket newsreader, and a bunch of other interesting internet tools.
Now as you all know, Decoder is secretly a podcast about org charts – maybe not so secretly, and Mozilla’s structure is really interesting. Mozilla itself is a nonprofit foundation, but it contains within it something called the Mozilla Corporation, which actually makes Firefox and the rest. Mitchell is the chairwoman of the foundation, and the CEO of the corporation. And the Mozilla Corporation, which they charmingly call MoCo, can make a profit - or it can least be taxed, which is an important distinction you’ll hear Mitchell talk about.
I bring this up because Mozilla has been around since 1994 in a variety of structures and business models – it started as a company called Netscape, and Mitchell was one of the first employees in the legal department. Netscape’s product was Netscape Navigator, the first commercial web browser, which of course changed the consumer internet and scared Microsoft so much it did a bunch of anticompetitive things that led to the famous antitrust case. In the meantime, Netscape got sold to AOL, and along the way Mitchell led the somewhat renegade Mozilla Project inside the company which eventually lead to Mozilla the non-profit foundation that eventually launched Firefox. It’s a lot!
But now Mitchell is trying to live up to Mozilla’s nonprofit ideals of protecting the open internet while still trying to compete and cooperate with tech giants like Apple and Google. And these are complicated relationships: Google still accounts for a huge percentage of Mozilla’s revenue – it pays hundreds of millions of dollars to be the default search engine in Firefox. And Apple restricts what browser engines can run on the iPhone – Firefox Focus on the iPhone is still running Apple’s webkit engine, something that regulators, particularly in Europe want to change.
On top of all that, some big foundational pieces of the web are changing: Microsoft is aggressively rolling out its chatGPT-powered Bing search engine in an effort to displace Google and get people to switch to the Edge browser, and Twitter’s implosion means that Mitchell sees Mastodon as one of Mozilla’s next big opportunities.
So how does Mozilla get through this period of change while staying true to itself? And will anyone actually switch browsers again? Turns out – it might be easier to get people to switch on phones, than on desktops. That’s Mozilla’s belief, anyway.
Netscape - Wikipedia
The State of Mozilla: 2021 — 2022 Annual Report
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Firefox drops Google as default search engine, signs five-year deal with Yahoo
Microsoft thinks AI can beat Google at search — CEO Satya Nadella explains why
Microsoft announces new Bing and Edge browser powered by upgraded ChatGPT AI
A beginner’s guide to Mastodon, the hot new open-source Twitter clone
Decoder is a production of The Verge and part of the Vox Media Podcast Network.
It was produced by Creighton DeSimone and Jackie McDermott and it was edited by Callie Wright.
The Decoder music is by Breakmaster Cylinder. Our Editorial Director is Brooke Minters and our Executive Director is Eleanor Donovan.
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