Once upon a time, it was simple. Mozilla, thanks to its open source web browser Firefox, was the feisty David to Microsoft's Internet Explorer Goliath.
He came to the job with a new agenda. Mozilla would no longer focus on its browser. Instead, job number one would be to make Firefox OS, the company's Linux-based mobile operating system, a major player in the smartphone and tablet wars.
Besides, in recent years Mozilla has become far too dependent upon the largess of Google for its finances. In 2012, 90 percent of Mozilla's income came from its Google advertising contract. This contract expires in 2014 and with Google now supporting its own mobile-friendly operating system and both Chrome OS and the Chrome Web browser on the desktop, Mozilla has little reason to trust that Google will continue to support them.
So, while a fundamental change in strategy may be risky, it seemed to Mozilla insiders like the best move, and Eich the best possible leader, to manage the company as it entered the hard-to-break-into mobile operating system market.
There is no question, however, that the firestorm about Eich's political stance, which led to Web sites banning the use of Firefox, hastened his departure. Eich himself simply stated that, "I resigned because I could not be an effective leader under the circumstances."
His resignation, in turn, caused another backlash. This one against the "political correctness" that had forced him out of the CEO suite.
When the job called for the finesse of dealing with a major public relations disaster, he was unable to cope or to find enough allies within Mozilla to successfully support him. As Surman said, "Over the past three years, we’ve become better at being a Company. I would argue we’ve also become worse at being Mozilla. We’ve become worse at caring for each other. Worse at holding the space for difference. Worse at working in the open. And worse at creating the space where we all can lead."
In a June 3 blog posting, Surman wrote that one of the things on the top of his mind is "Finding the right balance between clear goals, working across teams and distributed leadership. If I’m honest, we’ve struggled with these things at [Mozilla] for the last 18 months or so. Our recent all hands in San Francisco felt like a breakthrough: focused, problem-solving, fast moving." How this will translate into true leadership remains an unanswered question.
Mozilla needs to find strong leadership and it needs to do it now. With its cash reserves, Mozilla can make it through 2015, but it must, must, find its way soon or it will follow Netscape into becoming part of the Internet's past instead of its present and future.