03 January 2008

What Henry Blodget Just Does Not Get

Here's one of the barmiest - and saddest - things I've ever read, from a certain Henry Blodget:

When Will Firefox/Mozilla Go Public?

Mozilla's earnest Mitchell Baker and friends will, of course, publicly say "NEVER!" But let's be serious. Why wouldn't the Mozilla Foundation, which presumably exists to do good for the world, want to be the proud possessor of several billion dollars worth of public company stock? The Google Foundation, also a good-doing 501c3, certainly hasn't done badly with its own stash of GOOG. And, over time, like any smart foundation, Mozilla and Google will likely want diversify their holdings so they can continue to do good for decades.

Also, as well as Firefox is doing as a part-time love project, it could do even better with some major marketing, deal-making, and distribution power behind it. Every company in the world (save Microsoft) should want a Microsoft (and Google) competitor to succeed. So every company should want to at least consider a partnership with Firefox.

Mozilla Corporation was set up with one aim in mind: to further the open source code produced by the Mozilla Foundation, and the ecosystem around it. It was not set up to make money, or to have money as is its raison d'être. If it went public, money, not the users of its code, would dominate its decisions - and would have to, or shareholders would sue the management. (Google Foundation is a private foundation, and hence doesn't worry about shareholders: Google does, but it isn't trying to promote open source, it's trying to make money.)

Mozilla depends, not incidentally but critically, on those users: its programmers could write the code, but they couldn't debug it on their own, as open source history has often shown. And the amazing SpreadFirefox marketing effort made up of hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts giving their time and even money to further Firefox would evaporate the instant they realised that they were doing it to make other people rich. The moment Mozilla goes for the money, it cuts itself off at the the legs.

And even if in some moment of suicidal insanity all this did happen, the code would be forked faster than you can say "GNU": all the best - because most passionate - coders, beta-testers and marketing people would leave. This would split Firefox's marketshare and destroy any power that it currently has - and with it most of its revenue.

Mozilla Inc would promptly implode, and the "new" Firefox would steadily rise from the ashes, just as the old did from the original Mozilla. We could even call it "Phoenix"....

Update: From the horse's mouth.

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