3 ways Brendan Eich can move Mozilla beyond browsers

New CEO Brendan Eich wants to move Mozilla past browsers and into platforms, but Web's ad-fueled nature stands in the way

On Monday, Mozilla's co-founder Brendan Eich, also known as the inventor of JavaScript, stepped up to the top slot at the company as its new CEO, filling the void left by Gary Kovacs.

In some ways, it was inevitable. Eich has been one of Mozilla's most visible figures, especially in his efforts to stump for the various technologies Mozilla has introduced. It's been clear for a long time that Eich isn't content to simply make Mozilla synonymous with Firefox. His ambitions range far wider.

Firefox is still a major part of the Web experience, even if the browser has lost a good deal of its market share to Google Chrome. Mozilla's plans for Firefox haven't stood still either: A new user interface (not the one for Windows 8!) and a new multiprocess browser engine for Firefox, written in Mozilla's own Rust language, are on the way. Plus, Firefox has been pushed as a cutting-edge browser environment, thanks to its support for technologies like ASM.js.

All this combined with comments by Eich himself in an interview at CNet hint at how Mozilla would become a full-blown platform and service provider, one where the end-user would be that more an owner and steward of their data and their privacy. Here are three key ways Mozilla can develop further under Eich:

Mozilla as a software technology company, not just as a browser company. Rust and ASM.js are two of the biggest projects Mozilla has going in this department. The former is again being used to create a new rendering engine; the latter has enabled JavaScript to have software as complex as the Unreal Engine run in-browser. Another freshly minted project from Mozilla's labs, MozDef, is a toolkit for responding quickly to and coordinating defenses against security incidents and exploits, and it hints at how Mozilla is encouraging a diversity of project types under its umbrella.

Mozilla as a platform company. This means Firefox OS and Rush will become full-blown alternatives for end-users and developers, not just exotic novelties. As it stands right now, Firefox OS has notably allowed for the viability of low-cost smartphones in developing markets, but the end results have been unimpressive to those accustomed to current-generation smartphones. Eich needs to make people take Firefox OS as seriously as they do any OS -- not just its most direct competitors, Chrome OS, Android, and the Ubuntu-powered phone from Canonical. The fact that writing apps for Firefox OS is as easy as creating HTML5 Web pages won't make the platform as a whole gain ground with either users or developers. Fortunately, Eich seems to be aware of this: "For us to advance Mozilla's mission now requires us to have Firefox OS with enough adoption to matter to developers on mobile," he says.

Mozilla as a public advocate for the open Web. This goes beyond shaping how HTML, CSS, and JavaScript all move forward, although Mozilla's unquestionably done a great deal in this regard. For Mozilla to succeed as a services provider, Eich cites the need for "things like identity -- owning your own stuff on the Web, not stuck in some proprietary silo." One of Mozilla's major projects in this vein, Persona, didn't get the kind of attention it wanted; work from that project will instead be rolled into the existing Firefox user base (via "Firefox Accounts"), and Firefox itself will be the basis for future work in this field.

One other major issue that Eich touched on indirectly in the interview was Mozilla's finances and their significant ties to revenue sharing generated via Google search ads. Eich doesn't seem to believe the company's money stream is endangered, but its plans to diversity its income via sponsored links in Firefox may prove alienating. Unfortunately, with other Web giants like Google and Facebook still generating billions yearly from ads, Mozilla may have a hard time finding a revenue stream that isn't ad-based, and Eich may discover it's more difficult to make Mozilla into the true spokesman for the end-user's Web that he wants it to be.

This story, "3 ways Brendan Eich can move Mozilla beyond browsers," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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