Mozilla's Firefox chief steps down as the browser's share remains sluggish

johnathan nightingale cropped mozilla

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Mozilla’s vice president in charge of Firefox, Johnathan Nightingale, said he plans to step down at the end of March—and he says there’s nothing wrong with that.

(Update Feb. 19: Mozilla chief executive Chris Beard later wrote that Mark Mayo, who has been running Mozilla's cloud services team for the past four years, will be taking over leadership of the combined group.)

Nightingale added that he had no particular plans after departing. He was simply burnt out, and needed a break.

“[I]t took a lot out of me,” Nightingale wrote of 2014. “I need to take a break. And as the dust settled on 2014 I realized, for the first time in a while, that I could take one.”

“And I want a nap,” Nightingale wrote later in his post, titled “Home for a Rest.”

Nightingale said his post shouldn’t be seen as a “Sign of Doom,” that Mozilla and Firefox were failing. Last year, however, chief executive Brendan Eich resigned after word got out that he supported California’s anti-gay marriage law. (Eich disclosed his plans for the company later, in a series of tweets.) Last year, Firefox dropped Google as its search partner, added Yahoo, but then started asking for money to stay afloat.

According to Net Applications, the market share of Firefox has dipped from 17.26 percent in March 2014 to 11.9 percent in January 2015.

Behind the scenes, however, Nightingale said that Mozilla is thriving. "Mozilla today is stronger than I’ve seen it in a long time," Nightingale wrote. "Our new strategy in search gives us a solid foundation and room to breathe, to experiment, and to make things better for our users and the web. We’re executing better than we ever have, and we’re seeing the shift in our internal numbers, while we wait for the rest of the world to catch up. January’s desktop download numbers are the best they’ve been in years. Accounts are being counted in tens of millions. We’re approaching 100MM downloads on Android. Dev Edition is blowing away targets faster than we can set them; Firefox on iOS doesn’t even exist yet, and already you can debug it with our devtools. Firefox today has a fierce momentum."

Part of that momentum includes support for WebRTC, a new standard that's included in Firefox that allows users to place VoIP calls from their browser. That service, known as Firefox Hello, is designed to let your friends "link" to you, rather than open an app and call you.

Nightingale also helped oversee the rollout of Firefox OS, which tried to outdo Android as another inexpensive mobile operating system for tablets and smartphones. The phones debuted in 2013 without making much of a splash, unfortunately. Now, the company has taken aim at wearables.

Why this matters: Firefox has always been the favorite of users who support a wide variety of flexibility via plugins. With Microsoft's plugin-friendly Spartan browser waiting in the wings, it's really not the best time to jump ship. Nightingale's departure may not be a Sign of Doom. But if the market share numbers don't reverse course, Firefox could wander into the Opera and Safari hinterlands and lose itself completely within a couple of years. 

Story updated at 9:50 AM on Feb. 19 to add Nightingale's replacement.

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