Mozilla is now searching for a new CEO.
Outgoing chief executive John Lilly announced this week that he plans to step down from the top post at the firm, best known for its Firefox Web browser and a host of other open source projects.
Lilly said he will be joining venture capital firm Greylock Partners as a venture partner, after having served as CEO of Mozilla for the past two years and having been a Mozilla employee for the past five.
The shift in management at Mozilla comes at a critical juncture for the open source operation as a new Firefox 4 browser is in the works and competition in browser market space continues to intensify. Competitors like Google continue driving innovation in the market with its Chrome browser, while Microsoft continues looking to solidify its dominance of the space most recently with Internet Explorer 8, though work is already progressing on IE9.
It’s unclear what impact Lilly’s leaving Mozilla will have on the company. Mozilla’s chairman and “chief lizard wrangler,” Mitchell Baker wrote in a blog post that Lilly will remain with Mozilla “during the transition” and will stay on Mozilla’s board.
For Lilly, the change marks a return to some earlier interests.
“Mozilla was originally going to be a quick volunteer effort for me, but quickly turned into a full time job, and at the beginning of 2008 turned into the CEO job that I have now,” Lilly wrote in a letter to Mozilla staff. “I’ve really been missing working with startups, and want to learn how to invest in and build great new startups, so am planning to join Greylock Partners as a Venture Partner once we transition here.”
Baker, who served as CEO prior to Lilly, noted in her post that when Lilly originally joined Mozilla, she expected that he’d only be there for two years.
“At the time John had originally been planning to join the investing world as a venture capitalist,” Baker wrote. “That was five years ago.”
Prior to joining Mozilla in 2005, Lilly co-founded Web Services vendor Reactivity, which was acquired by networking giant Cisco for $135 million.
During Lilly’s tenure as CEO of Mozilla, the group released multiple versions of its flagship browser, including the Firefox 3.0, 3.5 and 3.6 releases. He also presided over Mozilla’s revenue growth, which in 2005 came in at $52.0 million and grew to $78.6 million by 2008. Much of that revenue is derived from a search agreement with Google which back in 2005 did not have its own Web browser. Mozilla now competes with Google’s Chrome for browser market share, though Google has stated in the past that it hopes the open source technology powering Chrome will help, not hurt, Firefox.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.