Brendan Eich's Departure Will Mar Mozilla but Not Stop Its Innovation


Brendan Eich was a key figure in the foundation of Mozilla, and his departure will be questioned and felt for a long time. Eich was named CEO of Mozilla March 24 but resigned April 3 after backlash over a 2008 contribution made in support of a California proposition to ban same-sex marriages.

When Eich was first named CEO, I was confident that he was the right person for the job—based on his technical merits. What has happened since his appointment is a failure of communications and public relations that, if it weren't so tragic, would be comedic.

Eich had been part of Mozilla since day one. He was not a new hire for Mozilla on March 24; it was just a new position with added responsibilities. Eich had been working as the CTO of Mozilla and strangely the same people that objected to his becoming CEO on March 24 were not vocal the day before, when he was just the CTO.

As CTO, Eich helped develop and set technical direction for Mozilla and its technologies that are used by hundreds of millions of people every day. Even more important, Eich is also the inventor of JavaScript, a language that is widely used on the Web and supported in every browser platform. Why isn't there a boycott of JavaScript?

Eich made the controversial donation of $1,000 in support of California's proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in 2008; that was six years ago.

(Personally, and for the record, I strongly believe in freedom for all, in marriage as in all things.)

Those within Mozilla's executive ranks and board of directors all likely were aware of the issue before Eich was named CEO. That's where the failure of Mozilla's communications and public relations efforts comes into play.

Instead of being open and in front of the issue, which is how effective public relations is done, Mozilla did not effectively communicate with its own community or with the press about the issue.

In fact, I received only one single, solitary email from Mozilla about the whole incident and then it was only to notify me that Eich had resigned.

An effective PR team would have been more active and would have been all over the issue, aggressively and proactively scheduling interviews and press conferences to communicate the facts properly.

It is ironic that Mozilla—an organization that is so open that an outsider can look at code commits and listen in on weekly meeting calls did not extend the same openness to its leadership decision.

The whole incident will undoubtedly scar Mozilla for months (if not years) to come, but it won't likely halt progress on any of the open-source group's major initiatives.

FirefoxOS is Mozilla's mobile operating system effort and a technology effort in which Eich had a guiding hand. At the time of the official FirefoxOS launch in February 2013, Eich was front and center. FirefoxOS development was always bigger than just Eich, and it will continue to move along with technical leadership from individuals like Andreas Gal, vice president of mobile at Mozilla, who was also a co-founder of the Boot-to-Gecko effort that is at the foundation of FirefoxOS.

Mozilla has also been pushing hard to ensure its platforms are suitable for gaming and has built partnerships with game development vendor Epic Games. In a 2013 interview I did with Eich about the partnership with Epic, he said, "We're out to support the Web for the user."

While Eich was a strong figure in Mozilla's gaming initiatives, Vladimir Vukicevic, engineering director at Firefox and inventor of WebGL, is also a key figure, and I expect he'll continue to push it forward.

Eich was also working on a new programming language called Rust that could eventually serve as the basis for a new browser known as Servo. Both Rust and Servo are continuing on in Eich's absence.

Then, of course, there is Firefox itself. While Eich has had a hand in Firefox development and direction, others within Mozilla have long been the driving force, including the incomparable Jonathan Nightingale, vice president of Firefox at Mozilla.

Lastly, there is JavaScript, the core Web language the Eich created in 1995. JavaScript is continuing to evolve in multiple ways and is standardized as ECMAScript, with work currently ongoing for an ECMAScript 6 standard set to debut in December 2014, and I'd expect Eich to be part of that effort in some way shape or form.

While there are many other Mozilla developers that work on the various technologies that Eich helped lead during his tenure, that's not to say that any are a replacement for his guidance or overall technical vision. While Mozilla has the staff and the community to continue on its mission of openness, it is very ironic that a key human component of its openness will no longer be making the journey forward with Mozilla to make the Web a better, more open place for us all.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.