Mozilla has built its name on open source software. But its latest Gigabit funding initiative, which piggybacks on Google Fiber, extends the organization's reach into networking and hardware by supporting the development of robotics, big data and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.

On Wednesday Mozilla announced that, in August, it will expand its National Gigabit Community Fund to Austin, Texas. The fund originated in 2014 in Chattanooga and Kansas City.

Both cities are serviced by Google Fiber, which delivers ultra-high Internet bandwidth to local homes and businesses. The Mozilla Gigabit initiative aims to help fund projects that take advantage of that connectivity.

According to Mozilla, engaging with developers and the education community will be central to its funding initiative in Austin. "Austin stood out due to its existing city-wide digital inclusion plan, active developer community, and growing informal education landscape," the organization wrote. "Beginning this fall, Mozilla will provide $150,000 in grant funding to innovative and local projects and tools that leverage Austin’s Google Fiber network. Think: 4K streaming in classrooms, immersive virtual reality, and more."

Beyond Open Source

The amount of money that Mozilla has injected into local communities through the Gigabit project may be relatively small, but the growing initiative is interesting from a channel perspective for a couple of reasons.

First, it signals Mozilla's interest in reaching beyond the world of software narrowly defined. Leveraging Google's gigabit network, Mozilla is expanding its presence in the worlds of robotics, big data and IoT. Those are places where Mozilla, which became famous for developing open source applications for traditional computing environments (namely the Firefox Web browser), has never before ventured in a major way -- although the organization has experimented in the past with mobile devices and, more recently, smart TVs.

Also notable is that Mozilla's Gigabit initiative is not strictly limited to open source projects. The application requirements do not mention open source, and Mozilla is not making open source a major part of the conversation surrounding the project.

That's not to say Mozilla is abandoning its open source roots. It remains heavily engaged in funding open source development through other initiatives, such as MOSS, as we reported recently.

But the direction of the Gigabit project suggests that Mozilla is now thinking beyond open source, and beyond software -- which is probably exactly what it needs to do to sustain its growth as it nears the two-decade anniversary of the launch of the open source Web browser that made it famous.