Apple 'undermines the Internet,' charges Mozilla CEO

Defends attack on Safari delivery, denies it's about the money

When Mozilla CEO John Lilly lit into Apple for using its software update utility to push Safari 3.1 to Windows users, he knew he was going to get a rise out of Apple fans.

"I wasn't surprised by the reaction," said Lilly Monday, talking about the criticism he's received from many online who took exception to his calling Apple's use of the utility "a bad practice" that "ultimately undermines the safety of the Internet."

"When you put Mozilla users and Apple users together, sometimes they poke at each other with sharp sticks," said Lilly. "But I would hope it's not about seeing everything through a partisan lens. This isn't about that. It's not even about [Apple] using the Updater as their distribution channel. It's just about the promise that people make when you provide a security update."

On Friday, Lilly, whose company develops and distributes the Firefox browser, took Apple to task for offering Safari 3.1 to Windows XP and Vista users via Apple Software Update, a utility that up until then had been used solely to push security updates to iTunes and QuickTime. He blasted Apple for using the tool to push Safari as a new install, not an update.

Lilly drew a line between software updates and users, and said the relationship is built on trust. "As a software maker we promise to do our very best to keep users safe and will provide the quickest updates possible, with absolutely no other agenda," he wrote on Friday in his blog, saying that Apple violated that trust. "Apple has made it incredibly easy -- the default, even -- for users to install ride-along software that they didn't ask for, and maybe didn't want. This is wrong, and borders on malware distribution practices."

That raised an online ruckus. People who commented on Lilly's post left messages taking him to the woodshed with lines ranging from "mountain out of molehill" and "[do] you feel threatened that Apple decided to use a legitimate medium to distribute their browser?" to "load of crap."

Lilly knew what he was in for. "Apple is a very hard organization to get critical of," he said. "There's always an outpouring of defensive comments.

"Actually, I'm really encouraged by that. It shows the participatory nature of the Internet," Lilly added. "This is a subtle nuanced issue, but this isn't us versus them."

In fact, Lilly tried to calm the waters by following his original Friday post with one on Sunday, where he denied that his criticism of Apple's Safari distribution meant Mozilla was spooked by competition. "It isn't about competition. To the contrary, competition is good -- necessary, actually," he wrote. "Competition -- or, more the point, the ability of people to choose what tools and services they use -- is essential, and without it nothing gets better."

Nor is it, Lilly said yesterday, about the money -- as some, including ZDNet's Larry Digman, have wondered. "There's no subtext in my message," said Lilly. "Not once did money come into my head when I was thinking about this. Competition, yes. In many many ways, this is about more competition."

Mozilla makes the bulk of its revenues, 85 per cent of the US$67 million it posted as revenues in 2006, the last year for which it has made information public, from its relationship with Google. The search giant pays Mozilla for assigning the Google search engine as Firefox's default, and for click-throughs on ads placed on the ensuing search results pages. Because Apple's Safari also uses Google as its default, some speculated that Lilly's Apple attack was profit-motivated.

"It's not about the money," Lilly answered when asked. "The money thing is the money thing. If we don't build a better browser, we'll lose users, and that's fine. That's the way the market should work."

One security analyst played it cautious. "Let's say it was unexpected," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security Inc., when asked to comment on Apple's move. "I did not expect Apple to bundle something else with its iTunes updates, so in a sense I do object to what Apple did because it didn't explicitly define what it would include beforehand."

And Storms thought Lilly scored at least once when the Mozilla CEO said he would have had no problem with Apple's Safari distribution path if it had left the browser's box unchecked. "Then it's a different story," said Storms. "And [Lilly} has made a valid point. More than half, maybe even as much as 90 per cent of users just accept what's offered."

"The world is a complex place," said Lilly. "There are new offerings on the Internet all the time, and we're all trying to figure out together how to be respectful of users."

This time, though, he made clear, Apple stepped over the line. And he was unrepentant for taking on the company. "I think they've undermined the work that we're doing on security and updates."

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Show Comments

Brand Post

Shining a light on creativity

MSI has long pushed the boundaries of invention with its ever-evolving range of laptops but it has now pulled off a world first with the new MSI Creative 17.

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?