By Sophie Taylor
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Mozilla.org, which makes Firefox, the most popular Web browser alternative to Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer, is setting up a China office to do battle in the world’s second-largest Web market.
California-based Mozilla already has a presence in China via a not-for-profit Foundation supporting open-source software projects, but the Beijing office will be its first real corporate presence, Mozilla Chief Operating Officer John Lilly said on Friday.
“It’s not our goal to make sure that everyone in the world is using Firefox. My main goal is that people know there’s a choice — that going on the Internet is not just clicking the blue ‘E’,” Lilly told Reuters in a telephone interview, referring to the Internet Explorer desktop icon.
Open-source software is intended to be copied and modified freely by users, leaving developers to make money from selling features and technical support, unlike paid-for proprietary software such as Microsoft’s Windows operating system.
Mozilla employs 100 staff worldwide, but has a much larger community of volunteers who test, tweak and share open-source software such as Linux, on which Firefox is based.
Mozilla operates through tie-ups with Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., targeting individual Web surfers, while open-source heavyweight and main Linux distributor Red Hat Inc. and, recently, Oracle Corp., target corporate clients.
Mozilla’s aim is to educate an organic open-source community in China who will adapt the technology to suit local tastes and become “Mozilla with Chinese characteristics”, Lilly said.
Mozilla — which has an office in Tokyo and volunteer staff in Taiwan — hopes to raise its slice of the China market to match its 9 percent share in Japan in a “couple years”, he added.
The company has around 80 million to 100 million users globally and around one million in China, Lilly said. China is the world’s second-largest Internet market after the United States, with around 137 million users.
In China, stricter government rules on piracy and expensive software licences might encourage more consumers to turn to open-source technology, industry watchers say.
Ever keen to develop home-grown technology, Beijing is also working on its own computer operating system and third-generation wireless standard, as well as its answer to the open-source movement — state-backed Linux distributor Red Flag Software.
Microsoft’s Explorer remains the most widely used software to surf the Web, but the long gap between major releases has allowed the emergence of its most formidable browser competitor since it vanquished the once-dominant Netscape.
Mozilla Firefox pitches itself as a more secure browser against “malware” — software that users download unknowingly and is difficult to remove — and has steadily gained users since its debut in 2004.
Its fastest-growing market is Europe, where it has a one-fifth market share, Lilly said, defining Europe as mostly western Europe and the Czech Republic.
Internet Explorer registered an 86 percent global share in October, Mozilla Firefox 11.5 percent and both Apple Computer Inc.’s Safari and Norway’s Opera Software, had less than 2 percent between them, according to OneStat.com.
Market researcher IDC estimates that the worldwide Linux business will grow 25.9 percent annually to more than $40 billion by 2008.