Brendan Eich, Mozilla's alpha nerd, takes over as CEO (Q&A)
Specifically, Mozilla is trying to crack the mobile OS market, first with Firefox for Android and now with the Firefox OS smartphone operating system. And it's trying to launch services, too. That puts companies like Apple and Google in Mozilla's crosshairs.
Mozilla has been looking for a new CEO since Gary Kovacs announced in April that he'd be leaving. Mozilla announced Eich's new role on Monday, when he spoke with CNET's Stephen Shankland. The following is an edited transcript.
Stephen Shankland: You've been chief technology officer at Mozilla, but now the nerd is in charge of the whole show. What's changed?
Brendan Eich: I've been doing management for a while. I was just CTO, but last January, I took over responsibility for managing engineering, and I was doing management before then. I was having all the angst and none of the authority, but now I have both.
Mozilla is made of people, and people fu is more important than code fu. I've been working with [Mozilla Foundation Executive Chairwoman] Mitchell Baker for 15 years, including 2003, when we were spinning out the Mozilla Foundation [from AOL] and bringing Firefox 1.0 to market. This is a natural progression to make best use of me and the other people at Mozilla.
I haven't pushed a patch in 14 months now. I feel OK about that. I'll still be there sometimes to make rain or peace in the standards bodies, but I'll have helpers who will do better than I would.
Will the CEO title give you more clout when negotiating with others in the technology domain, like Mozilla's effort a few years ago to get Microsoft to permit a full-fledged third-party browser in Windows 8's Metro mode? What new projects will you tackle with the authority of CEO?
The higher levels are about things like identity -- owning your own stuff on the Web, not stuck in some proprietary silo. The way the first- and second-mover advantage, they take power. People tend to get pulled into those power centers, to get signed up and monetized. A lot of users would like choice to come and go or have choice. With a browser and OS, you can start to climb up domain discourse stack to user identity and messaging and user sovereignty. When we started Firefox, we were going up against the Microsoft IE monopoly that was not good for users. But people didn't think about the cloud even though they were using browsers. For us to advance Mozilla's mission now requires us to have Firefox OS with enough adoption to matter to developers on mobile. And you have to have services, or partnerships for services, with user choice.
So we'll see more Mozilla user services?
Whose location services do you use now?
Eich: We've had Google for location on desktop. Firefox OS uses Qualcomm for location and Nokia Here for map tiles.
In the old days Microsoft was the competitor. Who's on Mozilla's enemies list now that you're trying to break down the walled gardens? Apple, Facebook, Google?
Eich: We don't really have an enemies list. We have frenemies everywhere. We're trying to help the people who feel owned or rented by some of the silos, but we also are fine allies to some of those.
You've been trying to give people control over how much data they share with advertisers through the Do Not Track effort, but it looks right now like that effort is toast. Will DNT ever amount to anything?
Eich: It's not toast. The idea is a timeless, good idea -- that users should have their wishes respected. We're working on the Electronic Freedom Foundation's experiments on enforce EFF on the client side [in other words, in the browser or on a computing device].
Is Firefox OS your top priority now?
Eich: I see it as the highest priority. It's like the great circus act -- spinning plates while doing back handsprings, and we are definitely turning mobile in the only way that can be really effective. The highest priority is to get volume to Firefox OS, especially the $25 phones.
To get high volumes of developers and users?
Eich: To get developer and user volume, we can go after not only smartphones at the really low end, and we can also mature upward. It's like a wedge going upwards and downwards. You already saw at Mobile World Congress that there will be better devices over time.
A year ago you planned to tackle the US market. Why did you back off that? At some point you have to take on iOS and Android more directly, not just take on markets below their price range.
Eich: That decision was a bit of ours and our partner's, Sprint. We'll get there. It's a matter of timing and focus.
What's the division of labor between you and Mitchell Baker? You've worked together for years now.
Eich: Mitchell is executive chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation, and she's chairwoman of the board, too. That's a powerful role. I've worked with her forever. Mitchell and I do have a good way of working together. Her domain is the broader work the foundation does as well as what we do inside Firefox. Most of the operationally heavy stuff is going to be me.
As CEO, you're now the money guy, too. Will Mozilla's finances be changing? [Mozilla currently makes the lion's share of its money from search ads on Google shown to people Firefox refers to the search engine.]
Eich: We're in a good place with Firefox. We have a competitive search market in the US. Our goal should be first to serve users and build good products and services and Firefox OS.