Why is Firefox free?

If Firefox is so good, why don’t we have to pay for Firefox?

Firefox logo

Firefox's logo

As you probably know, Firefox is a brilliant free web browser, used by millions of people to access the Internet every day. One question people ask about Firefox is “Why is Firefox free?”. Maybe that’s why you came here? I noticed people would arrive to this website with just that question — why is firefox free — so I wrote this page for you. I mean, if Firefox is supposed to be so good, why aren’t they selling it? What’s the catch?

“Ah, you must be new around here…”

Free stuff is what makes the Internet go round! The free flow of information - sharing knowledge using open standards - is the founding spirit of the Internet. The majority of the powerful computer systems that run the Internet use free software (like Linux and Apache). Firefox is an extension of this ideal.

The short answer: non-profit organisation

The short answer to why Firefox is free is because the Mozilla Foundation - the creators of Firefox - are a non-profit organisation. Their aim is to attract people to use their software, by building the best browser they can.

Longer answer: Open Source software

Mozilla use the marketing term “100% organic software” to describe the way Firefox is developed. Technically, the method called open source software. It means that thousands of people contribute their time and expertise for free to help improve Firefox, by writing new parts of it, pointing out problems with it, or fixing those problems.

It’s known as “open source” because anyone is allowed to see the source code - which you can imagine as like the script of a movie. With thousands of experts helping for free, mistakes get spotted and fixed quickly. That’s the whole point - be being open, everyone benefits in the end from better software.

Of course, you need people to manage the whole development process, so the Mozilla foundation employ their own programmers and project managers for Firefox and their other projects.

So, where do the Mozilla Foundation get their money?

(Google) search box in Firefox ^

Mozilla sell t-shirts and other merchandise in their own on-line shop, but that isn’t their main source of revenue. They get most of their money these days from Google. You see, Firefox has a search box at the top right of its window, like this picture:

As you know, when you search for something in Google, the page with all the results on it contains adverts (sponsored results). The companies who advertise pay Google a fee whenever anyone clicks on their adverts. If you use Firefox’s Google search box, then Google donates a fraction of this click-through fee to Mozilla. Millions of people use Firefox’s search box to find stuff via Google, because the search box defaults to Google and people don’t change it (or don’t know they even can).

Those millions of tiny fractions from advert clicks all add up. And that’s how Mozilla pay for their 50 permanent staff and ongoing costs.

What, you don’t like the idea of Google paying Mozilla like that? I can’t say I blame you. It’s simple to avoid that though - just don’t use that search box to search Google in Firefox. Personally, I avoid searching via Google.

To recap: Why is Firefox free?

So there you have it: “Why is Firefox free?” Because the makers of Firefox are a non-profit, who want to get as many people as possible using what they make. In the spirit of the Internet, thousands of people contribute their time freely to help out so everybody benefits (including them) from a better browser. Revenue from Google advertising clicks more than covers Mozilla’s costs.

If you haven’t already, you may be interested in this article: Firefox - Why should you use it?