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Eich Falls on Sword for Mozilla

By Richard Adhikari
Apr 4, 2014 12:06 PM PT

Mozilla Foundation cofounder Brendan Eich -- whose recent appointment as CEO of subsidiary Mozilla Corp. sparked an uproar -- on Thursday stepped down from the post in a bid to keep the company viable.

Eich Falls on Sword for Mozilla

Foundation cofounder and CEO Mitchell Baker painted the move as a return to the foundation's core principles, noting that Eich made the decision "for Mozilla and our community."

Mozilla "prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn't live up to it," Baker said. "We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: It's because we haven't stayed true to ourselves."

Eich's appointment as CEO, and his resignation, have raised questions about bigotry and freedom of speech.

Does a man have the right to contribute to causes he believes in, and should those actions impact his work? Where do we draw the line, and who says what the line is?

The appointment also raises questions about the open community process at Mozilla. The foundation learned about Eich's stance on gay marriage in 2012, according to Baker, and it came as a shock. However, it was discussed in the community process, and Mozilla decided to go ahead with Eich's appointment to the CEO post anyway.

Reaction to Eich's Stepping Down

Eich's latest move has triggered yet another furor.

The gay developers at Teamrarebit, whose criticism of Eich's appointment kicked off the outcry against him, said he'd be a "great CEO" if he reconsidered his attitude and issued an apology., which launched a petition to Mozilla calling on Eich to reverse his stance, resign or be replaced, welcomed his resignation as "an important moment for the Mozilla community and a critical development in our ongoing fight for equality and the open web."

The Courage Campaign, a California-based grassroots advocacy organization, declared that Mozilla had "once again reaffirmed its credibility as a thoroughly progressive institution."

Some prominent high-tech figures applauded Eich's move as being good for Mozilla but decried what they saw as negative implications for free speech., a conservative blog, described the resignation as an example of mob rule.

Nonaligned Views on the Issue

"Brendan was clearly caught in an issue which has experienced a rapid shift over the last couple of years," said Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC Seattle.

"What might have seemed a matter of opinion a couple of years ago is becoming a civil and even a human rights issue. It is ironic that this befell Mozilla, since the rapid pace of change in such issues is clearly related to the acceleration of our digital world ushered in by the Internet itself," he told LinuxInsider.

"While many people's attitudes towards same-sex marriage have changed during the past two years, Eich's have not," remarked Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "That does not necessarily make him wrong or evil -- just out of step."

Is the Open Process Broken?

Eich's colleagues at the Mozilla Foundation learned about a US$1,000 contribution he made to Prop. 8, a 2008 anti-gay marriage California state constitutional amendment, according to Re/code.

After discussing this in the open community process, they decided to appoint him CEO anyway.

"That was naiveté," Mukul Krishna, senior global director for digital media at Frost & Sullivan, told LinuxInsider. "They probably thought that since the issue did not blow up in their face when it was first brought up, people would be fine with his appointment to the CEO post."

However, as CEO, Eich "would represent the company, its ideology and vision," and that's where the trouble began, Krishna suggested. "You're talking about a company that depends on the community, not a company like the Koch brothers would run."

In the wake of the uproar, opined King, "I expect some fundamental changes to the community's processes are being considered or are under way."

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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