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Layoffs strike as Firefox's Mozilla reworks Asian operations

The nonprofit's cuts focus the Taiwan office more on regional priorities like an Android browser in Indonesia and less on global work to improve Firefox.

Mozilla's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Mozilla's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla, the nonprofit behind the Firefox web browser, has cut dozens of staff in its Taiwan office as it shifts its priorities in Asia.

Formerly, the Taiwan office supported Mozilla's broader, global open-source software efforts. Now, it's making changes so it can "better meet the unique needs of consumers in emerging markets across Asia," Mozilla said in a statement Thursday.

Mozilla declined to comment on the layoffs, but people familiar with its operations said the cut was deep, affecting dozens of people. In its statement, Mozilla indicated personnel changes are underway: "We value our employees, so our priority is managing this transition in a way that gives them the respect and consideration they deserve."

Taiwan programmers working on Gecko, a core part of Firefox, lost their jobs, one person familiar with the layoffs said. That's global open-source work, in contrast to newer, regional projects coming from Taiwan like the Firefox Rocket browser that Mozilla released in November for Android phone users in Indonesia.

Mozilla is going through a time of rebirth. In particular, it's working hard to restore its reputation as a browser innovator with the faster new Quantum version of Firefox, and there are signs it's making progress attracting new Firefox users. But it still trails Google's Chrome browser by a wide margin -- 55 percent of web usage for Chrome compared to 6 percent for Firefox, according to StatCounter's measurements -- and Firefox is a rare sight in the crucial mobile market.

Mozilla's revenue soared to $520 million in 2016, the last year for which financial information is available, but the organization doesn't have infinite resources. Its employee count grew from 1,000 employees at the end of 2016 to 1,200 at the end of 2017. Its main source of revenue, money from search engine partnerships, is under pressure. After Mozilla dropped Yahoo for a Google deal in the US in 2017, Yahoo owner Verizon stopped paying, and the dispute is now in the courts.

"The payments owed by Yahoo are key to financing Mozilla's efforts to launch the new version of its flagship product, Firefox," Mozilla said in its suit against Verizon. "The payments are also key to financing Mozilla's mission of ensuring that the internet is a global public resource, open to all."

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