Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

Summary: The next Mozilla chief is going to have to have a different set of skills to run an organization at a crossroads. Simply put, Mozilla is no longer an upstart, but needs to harness a startup mentality to fend off Google Chrome.

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TOPICS: CXO, Browser
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Mozilla CEO John Lilly is stepping down and the non-profit behind the Firefox browser is looking for a new CEO. The next Mozilla chief will need a different set of skills to run an organization at a crossroads. Simply put, Mozilla is no longer an upstart, but an established institution with its own quirks and culture that may not be conducive to being a leader in browser technology.

As noted by Lilly's exit missive, Mozilla is a bigger organization. Lilly writes:

I’ve always been a startup guy at heart — Mozilla was originally going to be a quick volunteer effort for me, but quickly turned into a full time job, and at the beginning of 2008 turned into the CEO job that I have now. I’ve really been missing working with startups, and want to learn how to invest in and build great new startups, so am planning to join Greylock Partners as a Venture Partner once we transition here.

In other words, Mozilla has grown up and that requires new leadership to manage all the problems that larger outfits face. Much of the focus today appears to be about Lilly's departure, first reported by Kara Swisher. But the bigger issue is the yet-to-be found CEO. Jeff Nolan at Venture Chronicles sums it up.

The only reason I am taking the time to post about this is that it is my view that Mozilla is at a crossroads, while accomplishing much over the years it seems to be remembered more for the potential it once displayed than the path it is blazing forward on...It’s great to have competition in this market and IE was destined to achieve mediocrity through indifference until Mozilla surged and presented a strategic threat to Microsoft. However, at some point just being as good as IE stops being something you highlight and Mozilla’s destiny seemed to be “we’re #2 and we try harder”.

So what does this new CEO have to do? Here are five thoughts about the to-do list for Mozilla and the skills needed to deliver.

Create faster development. Mozilla's development cycle can be plodding and needs to be better. It's no longer pushing the envelope on technology as much as it is keeping up. Without Google Chrome, there's little chance that Mozilla would be aiming to be "super-duper fast" as it wants to be in Firefox 4. However, the new CEO almost has to be in tune with the open source community. He has to herd cats and create a culture that wants to win. That's very hard in a non-profit organization.

Also: Firefox 4: Can it become 'super-duper' fast? Gallery: First look at proposed Firefox 4

Better develop a research arm to find the next big thing. The new CEO is also going to have to harness the community to deliver interfaces that push the envelope. Firefox 4 looks nice, but it also looks like Chrome. It took Google to break the browser mode and think a little different---largely to come up with a way to fix Firefox's memory consumption issues. Nolan, like the rest of us, couldn't help but see that "Firefox 4 is going to be a lot like the Google Chrome we already have, minus h.264 support, and it even looks like Chrome."

Find a cause. When Mozilla first hatched, it was all about kicking Internet Explorer in the teeth. Mission accomplished. Firefox is now 26 percent or so of the browser market, but that win was so yesterday. The new CEO has to figure out if the goal is to be No. 1, be the center of social networking management or just have fun. This issue has been raised before. I had mentioned that Mozilla may want to act more like a for-profit and got a bevy of interesting email responses. Most of them concluded that Mozilla can't be quick and lacks focus. A suggestion: Make diversifying revenue away from Google a goal.

Should Mozilla go public? In a word: No.

Make Webkit a friend. The Firefox 4 docs show Webkit as a gap. And it is. Nolan sums this up well: Firefox should embrace Webkit. The question is: How will the new CEO navigates those waters? And that question does get to a big definition question: Is Mozilla about the browser engine or the interface? Is there too much focus on building stuff that's already been built? Also: Browsers: Does minimalist win the race?

Scale the open source model. Mozilla is a commercial success, but as we've seen, it has a lot of the problems that many enterprises face. It has to be more nimble; it has legacy code it must support and an ecosystem that can be limited with its reverse compatibility issues. Chrome became a threat for one big reason: Google could afford to start from scratch. The new CEO at Mozilla has to create a start-over motif while not destroying what made the organization great in the first place.

Topics: CXO, Browser

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17 comments
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  • RE: Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

    It's interesting how WebKit rose from obscurity to being at the verge of replacing gecko.
    Until Apple took it over, the engine behind the KDE browser was an obscure piece of software that didn't get much attentio. After Apple took it over and polished it, then Nokia (QT) moved from its own KDE engine to WebKit, and when both Google and Adobe embraced it, web developers that were not previously Apple-Centric paid attention. Not to mention that being the rendering engine for iPhone also elevated its status as a rendering engine to test against.
    emiliosic
    • RE: Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

      @emiliosic,<br><br>You're exactly right about all this, except for your confusion about KDE and Qt.<br><br>The "standard" browser for KDE desktop users is Konqueror, still based on KHTML. There are plenty of other WebKit-based browsers which run on QT. And you can download "kwebkitpart" to replace most of KHTML's layout with WebKit.....<br><br>But the Consortium Vote, approving the project to create a WebKit browser directly on Qt, was only taken a few weeks ago, and the project is barely started. Creating a "KApplication", rather than a "QtApplication" adds lots of classes (widgets, interfaces to other code, etc.) which Qt doesn't yet provide... And so, the work to be done is quite large.<br><br>But yes, in the long term, there's going to be a web browser which uses Qt directly, for most things, and it won't be hard to switch from one "Desktop Environment" (or netbook environment, or smartphone environment) to another.
      Rick S._z
  • RE: Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

    Mozilla must fix the font problem with Thunderbird or be last in the number of customers served.
    mba28
  • RE: Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

    Sorry, nothing too esoteric to start with-
    Well, Thunderbird could do with at least a barely competent word-processor embedded. Nobody writes letters any more, but we still want our documents to look sexy.
    I can barely get the text the same font size, and Gawd knows what it looks like at the other end..
    colin mackenzie
  • WebKit is winning.

    And, having been a big supporter (and occasional patch coder, tester) of Mozilla and Firefox/Thunderbird over the years, I have extremely mixed feelings about it. (I first used Mozilla's browser BEFORE Dave Hyatt invented tabs, back around release 0.4).

    I may be wrong about this (I'm not a professional Software Guy). But it seems to me that the problem for Mozilla/Firefox is the architecture. (I'll ignore Thunderbird in this Talkback, but it's pretty much the same.) They've got a platform layer, Gecko, which "supports" the UI/Product layer (Firefox) like a Siamese twin: joined at the hip, you can barely touch Firefox in a MEANINGFUL way unless you do coordinated Gecko/XUL changes. (continued....)
    Rick S._z
  • And worst of All,

    It utilizes GTK (Version 2) as it's underlying graphics Toolkit. "Qt" has already paid the price, (mostly), of throwing out their badly designed, badly implemented old stuff and creating a more maintainable version. But GTK is pretty moribund; they'll fix bugs, but if you're adding any sort of new feature, it's likely to take YEARS. (Been there, done that: I wrote original English-only, 32-bit "demonstration" code to provide a file size size column in GtkFileChooser(), and it took several years before the feature was finalized with i10 and architecture independence by a real GTK coder.) continued....
    Rick S._z
  • Now: Why that's IMPORTANT, and agonizing for Mozilla.

    It's important because Webkit is already fairly platform independent. (Google does it, Apple does it, and Opera does it, providing builds for Linux and OSX and Win32 quite regularly.) But Firefox is a Siamese twin with Gecko, and Gecko is Siamese twin with EITHER win32 or GTK -- not anything else. And so, in spite of experimental browsers like "Fennec", and "Firefox on Qt", Mozilla can't decide what to do. The Gecko re-architecture and rewrite would be utterly massive.

    Meanwhile, Cellphone and Netbook Makers are going elsewhere, to alternatives which are being built with massive amounts of Developer Support-- support provided by Nokia, Google, and now Intel. I've seen a Qt consortium Wiki post which stated, as a matter of *fact*, that there's roughly 500 FULL TIME Developers working on WebKit.

    Mozilla is between a rock and a hard place, due to issues from long-ago legacy design choices: GTK , rather than Qt (yes, Qt's license terms were not safe at the time of that choice); and Gecko/XUL as a kind of mish-mash which "no one actually sees".

    Today's Firefox code cannot run on a platform with multi-touch UI graphical control, and that's a DEADLY limitation. Gecko will need to be pretty much re-done, from scratch; meanwhile, all those WebKit developers work together, adding new capabilities faster and faster.
    Rick S._z
  • Nevermind Mozilla...how about 5 things ZDnet web designers must do:

    In the last week since your own "the wow is now" moment...this website has only become worse.

    What good is improving a browser if the website to be browsed is a hot steaming mess? There is no amount of effort that can be done on Mozilla's part that will help websites plagued with broken links, dead space, botched navigation, etc.

    This "new and improved" website makes even IE8's putrid snafu's seem pleasant.
    SonofaSailor
    • RE: Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

      @SonofaSailor Beautiful: clear, concise, bang-on
      GWCC
  • Dave Hyatt didn't invent tabs

    They were used in the InterNetworks browser distributed by GNN, long before anyone else borrowed/stole &/or revived the idea. I had wondered for years, after GNN disappeared, just how long it would take for someone else to get he idea. GNN InterNetworks also had split screens, long before there were Firefox extensions to replicate this. You could have one page open on the left and control-click on the links to view them in the right pane.
    ITSecurityGuy
  • strategy development

    This is much more about strategic development than technical faults..Mozilla needs to embrace mobile services and provide the bridge from mobile computing to server.It needs to take the browser to cloud
    The Management consultant
  • RE: Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

    This is much more about strategic development and direction an area that opensource is severely failing compared with proprietory systems.Mozilla needs to embrace mobile services and provide the bridge from mobile computing to server.It needs to take the browser to cloud services. (Quote CEO BSC Consulting UK).
    The Management consultant
  • Really radical list

    I think these 5 points pretty well summarize Mozilla's current goals. Not exactly earth-shaking.
    Greenknight_z
  • RE: Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

    The thing is, i hate the look of chrome and thats the only thing holding me to FF and if that goes away, i will be stuck with an outdated version of FF.

    Also implementing h.264 support is a huge inhibitor for FF and should be repaired ASAP.
    smeezekitty2
  • More R&D required..

    In the era of netbooks and WebOS, Mozilla's Firefox cannot remain contended with it's quirky start up speeds. Performance quirks when more than 15 tabs are open will not be acceptable, not only in the light-weight WebOS arena, but also with the normal PCs with Windows/Mac or Linux.
    Naren Ubi
  • RE: Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

    For starters, fixing Bug 79074 (which has been around since 2001), would be nice.
    JavaJack
  • RE: Five things the new Mozilla CEO must do

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