Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich steps down due to public pressure

Brendan Eich

Brendan Eich, as he stands today, is famous on the internet for three things – one is inventing Javascript, which single-handedly changed the way that websites are designed today, secondly for being one of the founders of the Mozilla Foundation and three, for donating $1000 to the Proposition 8 fund in support of keeping valid a bill barring gay couples to marry in the state of California. Due to an increasing amount of media pressure and public backlash against Mozilla’s selection of Eich as CEO, he has voluntarily removed himself from his new role at Mozilla and is planning to leave the company entirely.

In a blog post on his personal website titled “The Next Mission,” Eich detailed what he still had planned for Mozilla and outlined what he still wanted to contribute to net neutrality. Given the immense pressure to resign by the public, Eich noted that he could not continue in his various roles at Mozilla without jeopardising public support for the browser and without harming the company’s financial position.

“My talk [recently given at Harvard university on privacy and user data] was really more about the ‘network problem’ than the ‘protocol problem’. Networks breed first- and second-mover winners and others path-dependent powers, until the next disruption. Users, or rather their data, get captured,” wrote Eich.

“In the end, I asked these four questions:

1) Can a browser/OS ‘unionize its users’ to gain bargaining power vs. net super-powers?
2) To create a data commons with ‘API to me’ and aggregated/clustered economics?
3) Open the walled gardens to put users first?
4) Still be usable and private-enough for most? 

I think the answer is yes, but I’m not sure who will do this work. It is vitally important. I may get to it, but not working at Mozilla. I’ve resigned as CEO and I’m leaving Mozilla to take a rest, take some trips with my family, look at problems from other angles, and see if the ‘network problem’ has a solution that doesn’t require scaling up to hundreds of millions of users and winning their trust while somehow covering costs.”

A long history with the internet

Eich began working on Javascript at the same time as he was employed by Netscape to work on their web browser and Netscape 2.0B3 was the first browser to ever see a working implementation of Javascript included. Javascript, almost overnight, changed the way that web pages were developed and ever since its birth in September 1995 Javascript performance has been prioritised in browsers like Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and even Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Microsoft, fearing that Netscape would see a giant boost in market share, included Javascript compatibility in Internet Explorer 3.0, released almost a year later.

While still working at Netscape, Eich helped fund and create, which was a side project that was designed to help co-ordinate development of the Mozilla application suite which was an open-source version of Netscape Communicator. When AOL drew out of the Mozilla project, the group split off into the Mozilla Foundation and branched off development of their web browser, now known as Firefox and their e-mail application, which eventually turned into Thunderbird.

From the foundation’s creation in 2003, Eich served as Lead Technologist and in 2005 was appointed as Chief Technical Officer (CTO). Up until the beginning of March 2014, he continued as CTO and was heavily involved in Firefox development, even contributing to the development of the Rust programming language.

Personally, I’m not sure how to react on this. On the one hand, I’m a supporter of equal rights and believe that gays and lesbians should just be treated as regular people, with the same marriage benefits and without fear of prejudice for something that, honestly, affects absolutely no-one outside of that relationship.

On the other, I’m saddened that many people chose to overlook Eich’s contributions to the internet as it is today in favour of a donation he made in 2008 to a movement that tried to deny gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to be married. We’ve lost a big voice in the fight for net neutrality and Mozilla loses one of its most talented employees.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Brendan Eich blog

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