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The greatest fear of an ambitious technology firm is to be condemned to “legacy”, tech speak for irrelevance. Its products may still be used, but out of inertia. The damning judgment could apply to Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser. Even on personal computers, where it used to excel, its market share has dropped steeply over the past ten years, from 30% to 10%, at a time when browsers have been losing ground to apps on smartphones. You could argue that Mozilla is kept alive by its main competitor, Google, whose Chrome browser accounts for 60% of the market and which provides most of Mozilla’s revenue in exchange for the privilege of being Firefox’s default search engine.
Put all this to Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s intense but approachable chairwoman and spiritual leader, and she is unfazed. Quite the opposite: more than ever, she counters, the digital realm needs an organisation that “puts people first and doesn’t squeeze every last penny out of the system”—unlike most of today’s tech giants. Is Ms Baker right? And if she is, what does the 20-year Mozilla experiment mean for the penny-squeezing parts of Big Tech?