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Firefox Quantum leader takes over all Mozilla products

Mark Mayo, who led the recent Quantum overhaul of Mozilla's browser, has a bigger job now. Mozilla's top lawyer also gets a promotion.

Mark Mayo, Mozilla's chief product officer

Mark Mayo is Mozilla's new chief product officer.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla launched the faster Quantum version of its Firefox browser last fall in a bid to restore the nonprofit's reach and influence. Now, the leader of that effort has been promoted to oversee all Mozilla products.

Mark Mayo, formerly senior vice president of Firefox, is now Mozilla's chief product officer, CNET has learned. That means he's taking over more projects, including the Pocket tool and mobile app. Pocket lets people save websites they'd like to revisit, but Mozilla also plans to use the resulting data to help recommend interesting or useful sites to Firefox users.

In addition, Mozilla has promoted Denelle Dixon, formerly head of business and legal work, to chief operations officer. She's overseen an effort to diversify Mozilla revenue sources, including through the Pocket acquisition in February 2017

The reorganization, which took place Tuesday, comes at a crucial time for Mozilla. The nonprofit faces declining Firefox usage that hampers its efforts to advocate for everyone, not just for Google, Apple, Facebook and other "megacorps," according to Mozilla CEO Chris Beard. Those efforts include work to protect privacy and to keep the web open and decentralized, instead of dominated by powerful players. Quantum holds the potential to restore some of Mozilla's one-time browser glory -- and influence.

Stemming losses

Speeding up Firefox is essential, Mayo said, but it's not enough to get ahead. Mozilla is working hard right now on making Firefox display websites faster, a big part of the overall Quantum performance work. After that will come work to differentiate Firefox in other ways. That'll be one answer to a tough 2017, when the number of daily Firefox users dropped, he said.

"We [got] hammered late last summer and fall. We have to rebuild up from those losses," Mayo said. But the signs are good for those who try Firefox Quantum and then stick with it, he said. "Early retention is improved quite a bit in Quantum and is holding. The current 'funnel' [of new users arriving] is performing better than it has during my entire tenure at Mozilla."

On Thursday, Mozilla confirmed the promotions and updated its leadership website.

"Having all our product groups in one organization means we can more effectively execute against a single, clear vision and roadmap to ultimately give people more agency in every part of their connected lives," Mozilla said of Mayo's role in a blog post

Mozilla COO Denelle Dixon

Denelle Dixon is Mozilla's new chief operating officer.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Dixon brings her more financially-focused style to the organization, Mozilla said. Her role as COO "will ensure a holistic approach to business growth, development and operating efficiency by integrating the best of commercial and open innovation practices across all that we do."

In another change, Chief Finance Officer Jim Cook is leaving.

"Jim Cook's 14 years of work for Mozilla are a big part of how we got to the financial stability we enjoy today. And it's one of the reasons he feels confident this is the right time for him to move on and return to his startup roots," Mozilla said in a statement.

Mozilla's challenge

More than a decade ago, Mozilla achieved a remarkable underdog victory against Microsoft's then-dominant Internet Explorer browser. Firefox features -- including speed, pop-up ad blocking, and a tabbed interface for easier handling of many websites at once -- helped it attract users while efforts to improve IE lay all but dormant.

But Firefox has waned in influence more recently. Google's Chrome browser has risen to dominance, including on smartphones where Firefox is almost unknown. Apple, too, gained influence with its Safari browser on iPhones and iPads. Firefox's share of usage on the web has slipped steadily, dropping from 6.7 percent of web pages viewed a year ago to 5.5 percent today, according to analytics tracker StatCounter.

The snarky "are we reorganized yet" site, modeled after other sites for tracking Firefox performance and maintained by unnamed Mozilla insiders, indicates the nonprofit's most recent management shakeup occurred Tuesday.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

With Quantum, Firefox hopes to turn that around. It's a complete overhaul that's already touched millions of lines of Firefox code and produced a dramatic speedup. There are early signs that the Quantum effort has sparked new interest in Firefox.

So far it hasn't resulted in obvious improvements to usage statistics, though.

In a 2017 interview, Mayo said he was pleased about improvements in sentiment toward Firefox visible on social media but said that doesn't immediately translate to more usage. There's usually a three- to five- month wait between product changes and resulting market share changes, he said.

"It's the biggest sustained upswing in sentiment since I've been here, and hopefully really big indicator [that] the world actually wants a competitive browser," he said. "If that's true, we should see some upswing in usage hours, traffic, and hopefully market share."

First published March 8, 7:17 a.m. PT.
Update, 7:38 a.m. PT: Adds Mozilla's confirmation of the reorganization.
Update, 10:12 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Mayo.