Mozilla mulls desktop search integration for Firefox

Having launched the much-awaited version 1.0 of the Firefox browser on Tuesday, the Mozilla Foundation is busy planning future enhancements to the open-source product, including the possibility of integrating it with a variety of desktop search tools. The Mozilla Foundation also wants to place Firefox in PCs through OEM (original equipment manufacturer) deals with PC hardware vendors and to continue to sharpen the product's pop-up ad blocking technology.

These and other enhancements, such as graphics display improvements, will help Firefox to continue building the already considerable momentum it has generated so it can capture between 10 percent and 12 percent of the Web browser market by some point next year, said Chris Hofmann, the Mozilla Foundation's engineering director. "We believe there's room for a lot of growth for Firefox's market share and there's a number of things we need to do to continue on this growth curve," Hofmann said.

For the past several years, Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer (IE) had held around 95 percent of the browser market, but this year it has been slowly but consistently losing ground, while Firefox has emerged as a fast-growing product, WebSideStory Inc., a San Diego Web metrics company, reported last week. At the end of October, IE had a 92.9 percent market share, while Firefox had secured a 3 percent share through its preview versions, according to WebSideStory.

Regarding integration with desktop search tools, the idea would be to offer Firefox users a choice of third-party tools for searching information stored on their PCs, Hofmann said. "We see a lot of growth with the integration of searching Web sites and searching your desktop ... so we'll be looking at ways to try and integrate that search within the browser, to make more seamless how users go searching for information, whether on the Internet or their computer," Hofmann said.

Desktop search is one of the hottest areas in the search market currently, as users look for tools that let them find information on their PCs with the same ease and speed of Internet search engines. Thus, multiple high-profile vendors either provide or plan to provide tools for conducting desktop searches.

For example, Google Inc. recently introduced one such tool, while America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. have separately acknowledged they are developing their own wares. Microsoft for years has bundled hard-disk searching functionality with its Windows operating system, but the technology has been considered generally clunky and Microsoft is expected to offer an enhanced alternative in the near future. In the meantime, vendors such as X1 Technologies Inc., Copernic Technologies Inc. and Blinkx already offer desktop search tools.

"There are a variety of companies that are working on that technology and we may just try and identify a way for Firefox to plug into a variety of desktop search engines and enable users to pick and choose," Hofmann said.

The Mozilla Foundation will also continue to boost Firefox's pop-up ad blocker, a key feature to make users' browsing experiences better, he said. These types of disruptive ads are generally considered a nuisance by browser users. "We want to stay ahead of the curve of Web sites that like to inject pop ups, so we'll continue to improve our pop-up blocker" in future Firefox upgrades, he said.

Clearly, signing OEM deals with PC makers to bundle Firefox with their machines would be important in accelerating the distribution and adoption of the browser, and the Mozilla Foundation is working on getting such deals done, Hofmann said, although he declined to comment further on which PC vendors might be involved.

Beyond Firefox, the Mozilla Foundation will continue to work on other Internet software, such as its Thunderbird e-mail client, which is in preview version 0.9 right now and whose 1.0 version should ship later this month, Hofmann said. Also in the works is calendar software.

The Mozilla Foundation, based in Mountain View, California, is a nonprofit organization founded in July 2003 to support the Mozilla open source software project, launched by Netscape Communications Corp. in 1998. Firefox 1.0 can be obtained from www.mozilla.org as a free download or in CD format with a manual for US$14.95.

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