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Mozilla's New CEO, John Lilly Steps Up To The Task

The former COO talks about launching the group's e-mail client, modifying the browser for mobile devices, and dispelling rumors about taking the company public.


John Lilly, CEO, Mozilla

John Lilly
CEO, Mozilla

InformationWeek: Is there any reason for Mozilla to go public? Just over a week ago, Mozilla announced that COO John Lilly had become the organization's new CEO. Lilly is a veteran of Apple, Sun Microsystems and Trilogy Software. Recently, he served as CEO, CTO and VP of products for Reactivity, which was acquired by Cisco in 2007. On Friday, he spoke with InformationWeek about the future of Firefox and of Mozilla.

InformationWeek: What's next on the agenda for Mozilla?

John Lilly: Right at the moment we're trying to get Firefox 3 out the door. That'll happen the first half of this year. I've been using it for a while obviously, but since beta 2 I've been encouraging everyone I know to shift over because I think it's quite a high-quality release, especially for a beta.

Getting MailCo launched, our Thunderbird sister company to Mozilla Corporation, getting that up and off the ground is a pretty high priority for us in addition to Firefox. And as I said in my blog, I'd like us to help people understand who we are a little bit better. My in-laws of course are very proud of what I do and what my wife does, and they've been sending around articles about me and the CEO job. And many of their friends, the characteristic response is, "I've used Firefox for a long time but I had no idea about the mission and the non-profit orientation of Mozilla." So one of my hopes is to help people understand what we're trying to do in terms of keeping the Web open and participatory.

So, get Firefox out, get Thunderbird out, and start to be able to talk a little bit better about what our mission is and how're getting things done, because it's quite unconventional.

InformationWeek: Are there any particular technical issues you're wrestling with that threaten that agenda? To judge by the recent retreat on music DRM, openness seems to have the upper hand at the moment.

John Lilly: For me, it is clear that openness is coming on all fronts. I don't think I'm quite ready to say that DRM is disappearing. I think in music it is. In movies, it's sort of the opposite. And in spite of my appointment at an open source project, I bought an Amazon Kindle and I really like it. But it's decidedly not open. So there are still closed projects and closed-source projects that are significant and meaningful. I think that things like dataportability.org and some of the open API things that are happening are pretty key. We have one, a new initiative in labs called Weave, that's more about making server-side services more accessible and open to anyone.

InformationWeek: What's standing in the way of further openness? What remains to be done?

John Lilly: We're an 18% browser, so I'd say that the hard part of the fight's ahead. People like to write about us as if we've done something, and I think we have. I think we're made a significant impact on the world. But there's huge contention around standards. Getting JavaScript 2 into the world, through the standards groups and implemented, not only in Firefox and Opera but in Internet Explorer, is a big fight still. I think helping Web developers not require proprietary frameworks like Flash or Silverlight, that's a big thing. I think there's lot of innovation to do on the Web; I think there're lots of reasons that there will be closed factions and open factions.

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