SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Mozilla, which develops open-source Web browser Firefox, the biggest alternative to Microsoft Corp’s (MSFT.O) Internet Explorer, aims to at least double its share in China this year, which is set to become the world’s largest Web market.
California-based Mozilla expects the going to be tough in a country where consumers are largely unaware of open-source and businesses typically base their services solely on Explorer, Gong Li, chief executive of Mozilla Online, said on Monday.
Mozilla Online — known as “mou zhi,” or “seek wisdom” in Chinese — now has around 4.5 million regular users in China, said Gong, who previously worked at Sun Microsystems Inc JAVA.O and Microsoft’s MSN unit.
“It’s going to be a challenge raising our market share to our global average (of around 20 percent), since a lot of Chinese services are constructed on an Explorer platform,” he added.
“Five percent is not enough, but it’s our target for the second half of the year,” Gong added. Its current market share in China is about 2 percent.
Mozilla Online, the foundation’s China unit, makes its revenue through donations as well as tie-ups with third parties, such as one struck late last year with Baidu.com Inc (BIDU.O) to embed Baidu’s search engine in Chinese versions of Firefox.
“Our main advantage is that we are more creative, and can move more quickly. Once Microsoft beat out Netscape, it basically didn’t roll out anything new on the browser front for a long time,” said Gong.
This lull, he said, is giving Mozilla’s Firefox a chance to catch up and increase its popularity by offering more ways for users to personalize the software to their liking.
Open-source software is free to the public to be used, revised and shared, unlike proprietary software made by the likes of Microsoft, which has been criticized for bundling programs with its Windows operating system.
But in China, widespread piracy means most consumers are able to obtain proprietary software at low prices, making the relative affordability of open-source software such as Firefox moot.
Mozilla Online will continue seeking partnerships in China, Gong said, and hopes it will break even in two to three years’ time.
“Revenue from tie-ups would help give Mozilla a greater degree of independence than if it relied purely on donations,” Gong said.
China was the second-largest Web market with 210 million Internet users at the end of 2007, trailing only the United States, and was set to become the world’s largest early this year, the official Xinhua news agency said in January.
Reporting by Sophie Taylor; Editing by Edmund Klamann