Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Mozilla Layoffs

Frederic Lardinois, in January (via Hacker News):

Mozilla laid off about 70 employees today, TechCrunch has learned.

In an internal memo, Mozilla chairwoman and interim CEO Mitchell Baker specifically mentions the slow rollout of the organization’s new revenue-generating products as the reason for why it needed to take this action. The overall number may still be higher, though, as Mozilla is still looking into how this decision will affect workers in the U.K. and France. In 2018, Mozilla Corporation (as opposed to the much smaller Mozilla Foundation) said it had about 1,000 employees worldwide.

Mitchell Baker (via Hacker News, 3, Jacob Kastrenakes):

Today we announced a significant restructuring of Mozilla Corporation. This will strengthen our ability to build and invest in products and services that will give people alternatives to conventional Big Tech. Sadly, the changes also include a significant reduction in our workforce by approximately 250 people.


To start, that means products that mitigate harms or address the kinds of the problems that people face today. Over the longer run, our goal is to build new experiences that people love and want, that have better values and better characteristics inside those products.


Recognizing that the old model where everything was free has consequences, means we must explore a range of different business opportunities and alternate value exchanges. How can we lead towards business models that honor and protect people while creating opportunities for our business to thrive? How can we, or others who want a better internet, or those who feel like a different balance should exist between social and public benefit and private profit offer an alternative? We need to identify those people and join them. We must learn and expand different ways to support ourselves and build a business that isn’t what we see today.

This is all rather vague, but it sounds like they want to diversify away from Firefox and have laid off most of the Servo team. What could be more important to the mission than maintaining an independent browser engine? On the other hand, Firefox is expensive to develop, and it’s not clear how to replace the funding that had been provided by its primary competitor.

Catalin Cimpanu:

Mozilla’s contract with Google to include Google as the default search provider inside Firefox is set to expire later this year, and the contract has not been renewed. The Google deal has historically accounted for around 90% of all of Mozilla’s revenue, and without it experts see a dim future for Mozilla past 2021.

Maciej Stachowiak:

For Mozilla folks looking for a landing spot, Safari and WebKit teams have a number of openings.


Update (2020-08-12): ploxiln:

It was making 100s of millions of dollars per year from the default search provider deal, for over a decade. It could have saved most of that money, spending it only on 50 to 100 browser engineers. Branching out to MDN and websocket or webrtc libraries would also make sense. But the rest of the crap, the marketing, the rebranding, the Pocket purchase and integration, Firefox OS, the voice recognition and AI stuff (and notice the announcement, they’re keeping the AI division, really need that part apparently), stuff that nobody remembers, that’s all a waste of money that could be saved by the non-profit foundation to just support the low-level engine keeping the open web viable.

Kat Marchán:

So to summarize what we know so far, the following teams at Mozilla have been either eliminated or gutted to oblivion[…]

Update (2020-08-17): Ted Mielczarek:

I’m convinced that the biggest problem Mozilla had was that the business model we stumbled into (ad revenue sharing from search providers) gave us a firehose of money that was mostly disconnected from our execution no matter how you measure things.

Ted Mielczarek:

Google actually hired some Netscape folks and paid them to work on Firefox. (And then turned around and had them build Chrome, naturally.)

John Gruber:

It is a very good thing for the world and the web that a truly independent browser exists from a privacy-minded company, but there’s not much of a business model for it unless it’s popular enough to get the dominant search engine to pay for placement.

Nick Heer:

It has been a long time since I was a Firefox user, but I cannot imagine building stuff for the web without MDN. I feel terrible for the hundreds of people laid off, for the impact their absence will have, and for the general downfall of Mozilla as Google has become a de facto web authority.

Thank You MDN (via Hacker News):

MDN Web Docs is the life blood, the home, the source of truth for millions of web developers everyday. It empowers individuals and teams to build amazing services and products, to learn, to create their own opportunities, and to express themselves on the open web. As a community of developers we have access to all of this information for free ♥️

Mozilla Lifeboat (via Hacker News):

Mozillians are everywhere! It doesn’t matter if you’re a former employee, contributor or simply a fan — if you’re looking for a new home, start with this list of Mozillians actively hiring kind, passionate, awesome humans.

John Carmack:

Just last night I was thinking about how it was possible that, given the relative trends, Mozilla’s greater legacy might turn out to be Rust, not Firefox.

Mike Conley:

Super talented Mozillians looking for work! Here’s the official talent directory! Get it while it’s hot.

Update (2021-01-06): Lawrence Abrams (via Hacker News, Bogdan Popa):

The Microsoft Edge browser is now being used by more people than Mozilla Firefox making it the 2nd most popular desktop browser.

Cal Paterson (via Slashdot):

The real problem is not the royalty cuts, though. Mozilla has already received more than enough money to set themselves up for financial independence. Mozilla received up to half a billion dollars a year (each year!) for many years. The real problem is that Mozilla didn't use that money to achieve financial independence and instead just spent it each year, doing the organisational equivalent of living hand-to-mouth.

Ian Bicking (Hacker News):

There are many concerns about Mozilla right now, and reason to be concerned. While I am no longer with Mozilla, it’s still a place that supported me for many years; I believe in Mozilla and want the project to succeed.


The answer is clear to me: if Mozilla wants to improve its financial position, then it needs to increase the number of Firefox users. That’s always been the right focus, and it’s still the right focus.


At some point I took to asking people in Mozilla: what is the purpose of Firefox? This was during Firefox 3 days when optimism for the product was low.


And I did get all those answers, but also one I didn’t expect: Firefox exists just to give Mozilla a seat at the table when the web is defined.


Mozilla was never going to be happy building a great browser that its users loved.

8 Comments RSS · Twitter

What could be more important to the mission than maintaining an independent browser engine?

Yeah. The moment Microsoft announced they couldn’t justify funding its own engine, things weren’t looking great for Mozilla.

I fear this means they’ll move to Chromium, which is awful news for a vibrant, diverse web ecosystem.

(I don’t mean to sound callous. Obviously, the layoffs are bad, too.)

I wonder what it means for Rust.

Servo isn't their primary engine – Gecko is. I can't imagine many companies can justify maintaining two browser engines? (especially, as Sören pointed out, Microsoft couldn't even justify one)

Gecko uses some of the really good parts of Servo already (e.g. WebRender and the CSS engine).

Which isn't to say this whole situation doesn't suck. It really does.

My guess is the Rust compiler and community are mature enough by now that they'll be able to find sponsorships for core dev members. Well, that's my hope anyway.

Well, Rust has been picking up some steam, but I'm not sure it's self-sustaining just yet. Most people on the Rust core team seem to be Mozilla employees.

For me, the frustrating part is that it would be a rounding error off any big tech company’s profits to make a large enough contribution to Mozilla’s endowment such that they wouldn’t have to worry about the Google contract to keep working on such an important project.

Old Unix Geek

The fact they fired the people creating innovation (eg servo, rust, wasm), but did not cut their CEO (2.5 million dollars according to wikipedia) and other exec pay disgusts me. That single salary could employ 20+ engineers. When there's no skin in the game for those who set strategic direction, they become a bunch of rent seekers. Now predicting Mozilla will become irrelevant and die because of managerial parasitical rot.

Really sad to hear all this. Firefox deserves so much better than to be stripped for parts by bad management.

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