A dozen years ago, the notion of Microsoft doing anything to make it easier for Windows users to find and install open source software would’ve been unthinkable.
The open source community hardly noticed this week when Microsoft opened its arms to its once arch rival in browser space, Firefox, the open source daughter of Netscape and for many years the only serious competition Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser faced, by making the open source browser available in the Microsoft Store.
A dozen or so years ago Microsoft would never consider putting open source software of any kind in an online store it managed, even if it had had one back then, which it didn’t. This would’ve been doubly true of a browser, because of Redmond’s fear that losing the browser market meant losing its lucrative operating system market, which was largely bankrolling its operations. Remember, this was at the height of the Ballmer administration, which proclaimed Linux and open source to be a communist cancer, or something like that.
It’s just as unlikely that Firefox would have accepted any offer from Microsoft to make it easy for Windows users to find and install Firefox through a Microsoft platform. At that time, a decade or more of dirty tricks and FUD originating from Redmond had made the open source community wary and openly belligerent when it came to Microsoft, and Mozilla was dependent on the open source community.
At that time, Firefox would’ve been at its peak of strength in the browser market, and Mozilla was working to create the perception that it was as militantly free and open as more radical organizations such as the Free Software Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and GNU. It’s deal with Google for a share of the ad revenue generated through searches by Firefox users didn’t go down well with many open sourcers and free software advocates, so it’s highly doubtful that it would’ve entered into any agreement with Microsoft, in fear of adding fuel to an already smouldering fire.
But that was then, and this is now. This week, the impossible happened.
In an online statement last week, Mozilla announced Firefox as the first major browser to become available in the Microsoft Store for Windows 10 and Windows 11.
“Previously, if you were on Windows and wanted to use Firefox, you had to download it from the internet and go through a clunky process from Microsoft,” Mozilla said. “Now that Microsoft has changed its Store policies, choosing Firefox as your desktop browser is even more seamless – and it comes with all the latest Firefox features.”
Again, a dozen years ago this news would have stirred up a hornets’ nest from both proprietary and open source camps. Today there is nothing.
We’re five days away from when the availability was announced, and it appears as if hardly anyone has noticed. A quick look at Google shows that a number of sites, including a couple of large ones such as The Verve, covered the announcement, but there’s been no evident push back, or “likes” and “shares” of media accounts on social media. It would’ve been easy to have missed this story.
On the FOSS Force News Wire, other than the announcement from Mozilla, I saw nothing. Not a hint on Twitter, nor on Facebook.
Microsoft and Mozilla: BFFs
From reading Mozilla’s announcement, it might be easy to think that Microsoft and Mozilla had been friends since childhood, although Mozilla did reckon in a round about way that Microsoft had seen the error of its ways and now realizes that competition in browser space would be good because it would spur innovation.
“Until recently, Microsoft’s store policies required that all web browsers use the engine that Microsoft had built into their platform which meant we were unable to ship the Firefox you know and love in the Windows Store,” Mozilla said. “This was not only bad for you but bad for the web because it meant that the web on Windows 11 would only have the features Microsoft was willing to provide. People deserve choice and we’re glad there is an easier option to download Firefox on Windows.”
Other than that, it appears that Microsoft and Mozilla both want us to believe they are best friends forever.
That might change, however.
No mention was made anywhere that I saw, of the fact that the browser Mozilla will be shipping through the Microsoft Store profits from defaulting to a search engine other than Bing, which Microsoft is still trying to position as a major search destination. That should make things pretty interesting when Google’s contract with Firefox expires in 2023, especially if Microsoft sees a large number of Firefox downloads through its store.
Anybody ready for a messy bidding war?
“When you choose to use Firefox, you help us advocate for a web that is safer, more private and fast,” said Mozilla. “You signal that you want a choice and the freedom to experience the web on your own terms. We’re excited to make Firefox available in the Windows Store. Try it out!”
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