RealNetworks to deliver Firefox

For the next two years a partnership between RealNetworks and Mozilla will mean that users downloading RealPlayer, Rhapsody and other Real software will also receive the Firefox browser. The announcement late last night said that a partnership to distribute the Google Toolbar has also been formalized.

This is great news for Firefox. Real says it sees more than 2 million downloads of its software each day, though it’s not clear how many of those are of software that will now include Firefox.

Real has long been criticized for letting more obnoxious software piggyback along with its software in downloads, but this seems like a great move. Though Firefox now has a 16% marketshare in the US, and higher elsewhere, I’m sure there is still a world of people who have never heard of it or who don’t know how to get it.

Partnerships are a great way to extend market share, so long as they are done carefully. Software made easily available after the purchase of hardware seems far less coercive than some forms of partnership, including the controversial “bug” found in Google Toolbar for IE yesterday – which blocks users from changing their default search away from Google.

The Real/Firefox partnership looks great though, I imagine it will really help extend the use of Firefox. Update: Some readers are saying that this is a bad move, that downloading one program means they only want one program downloaded – and that makes sense too. This could end up backfiring for Firefox with its most discerning customers, who are also its boosters. Is FF abandoning its honest word of mouth marketing approach via loyal early adopters and moving towards a creepier method of extending market share? Tough call.