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Objecting to new CEO, resignations sweep Mozilla board: Report

Three directors step down because they wanted a mobile-market expert from outside, not CTO Brendan Eich, as the new CEO, the WSJ reports. Also, Eich is dogged by concerns over 2008 gay-marriage stance.

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich
Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla announced some management changes Monday, but it turns out the shakeup isn't over yet.

Three members of Mozilla's board resigned over a disagreement about the Firefox developer's promotion of former Chief Technology Officer Brendan Eich to the chief executive job, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Eich took the new job Monday and, in an interview with CNET that day, said three board members had resigned: John Lilly, a former Mozilla CEO who's now working at venture capital firm Greylock Partners; Ellen Siminoff, CEO of online education company Shmoop; and Mozilla's most recent CEO, Gary Kovacs.

Mozilla said the board changes happened last week, but disputed the Journal's account.

"The three board members ended their terms last week for a variety of reasons," the nonprofit organization said in a statement. "Two had been planning to leave for some time, one since January and one explicitly at the end of the CEO search, regardless of the person selected."

As those three directors left, a new member joined: Spiegel Online CEO Katharina Borchert. That forms what's become a board of three along with Chairwoman Mitchell Baker, who co-founded Mozilla with Eich, and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

The board members left because they wanted an outside executive whose experience would help Mozilla gain influence in the fast-growing mobile computing industry, the journal reported, citing unnamed sources. Mozilla's mobile version of Firefox has vanishingly small usage, and its mobile operating system, Firefox OS, is a new arrival in a market dominated by Google's Android and Apple's iOS.

Gary Kovacs speaking in 2013 when he still was CEO of Mozilla.
Gary Kovacs speaking in 2013 when he still was CEO of Mozilla. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla, a nonprofit organization with an unusually principled mission to keep the Web open, is an anomaly in the middle of a Silicon Valley generally more concerned with profitable technology startups. But apparently it's not immune to the boardroom politics of more ordinary corporations, and its philosophical stance perhaps makes it more of a target for disagreements involving social politics, too.

Eich, on a plane to California on Friday evening, couldn't immediately be reached for comment. On Monday, he said Lilly was "stepping off [the board] to focus on work at Greylock."

Eich's appointment triggered some protests, including one prominent one from app developer Rarebit.

"As a married gay couple who are co-founders of this venture, we have chosen to boycott all Mozilla projects. We will not develop apps or test styles on Firefox anymore," said Hampton Catlin, Rarebit CEO. "Effective today, we're removing Color Puzzle from the Firefox Marketplace and stopping work on all of our Firefox-related applications, notably the about-to-launch Firefox version of the popular Dictionary! app for iPhone and Android."

Mozilla employees also took to Twitter to protest. "Have waited too long to say this. I'm an employee of @mozilla and I'm asking @brendaneich to step down as CEO," tweeted designer Jess Klein.

Mozilla is sensitive to the criticism. "Our culture of openness extends to letting our staff and community be candid about their views on Mozilla's direction...We expect and encourage Mozillians to speak up when they disagree with management decisions, and carefully weigh all input to ensure our actions are advancing the project's mission."

Former Mozilla CEO John Lilly in 2009
Former Mozilla CEO John Lilly in 2009. Stephen Shankland/CNET

In addition, Eich, Baker, and Mozilla itself posted statements on the organization's policy embracing diversity.

"I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion," Eich said in his blog post. "I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything. I can only ask for your support to have the time to 'show, not tell'; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain."

Daniel Glazman, chairman of the World Wide Web Consortium's group that standardizes the Web's CSS formatting technology, wrote a defense of Eich's right to an opinion. "Pointing...at someone of our community for his/her beliefs can only have one side-effect: people will stop expressing their opinions because they will be afraid of the kickback," Glazman said. "That's not the world I want to live in; that's not my concept of democracy and freedom of opinion/speech."

Update, 6:37 p.m. PT: Notes that Eich did mention Kovacs' departure in his Monday interview.

Update, March 29 at 1:24 a.m. PT: Adds Mozilla comment disputing some of the Journal's account.