5 years of Firefox
It was on the 9th of November, 2004, that the Mozilla Foundation released version 1.0 of its Firefox web browser. The community celebrated the new browser with parties all over the world. Before the launch, the Foundation had even collected donations via the promotional American spreadfirefox.com site and its German Firefox kommt counterpart to pay for full-page spreads in the New York Times and the German FAZ newspapers, informing the general public about the new browser.
Firefox was developed as an offshoot of the Mozilla browser suite, an attempt by Netscape to preserve its bloated and sluggish Communicator collection of web applications by transferring it to the open source world. In 2002, the developers started working on a stand-alone browser. Initially called Phoenix the lean browser was then renamed Firebird, and later Firefox, to avoid trademark issues.
There is virtually no visual difference between Firefox 1.0 and the current version of the browser – if you like, you can still download the first edition from Mozilla's FTP server and take a look. Firefox 1.0 included a pop-up blocker and tabbed browsing, as well as genuinely unique features like live bookmarks for displaying the headers of RSS and Atom feeds. Based on XUL, the browser's interface architecture made it easy for the developers to write extensions for the new browser. As a result, the community has contributed thousands of add-ons over the years.
The browser's adaptability is one of the main reasons for its continuing success, and Firefox has managed to claim an increasing share of the browser market in recent years. While the developers were initially delighted about 10 million downloads in a month, release 3 was downloaded more than 8 million times within the first 24 hours. Mozilla has registered over a billion downloads in total. With its market share of 25 per cent, Firefox is the second most popular browser worldwide after Internet Explorer. In Germany, for example, it holds a market share of about 40 per cent, and among heise online readers it is the clear favourite with a share of 60 per cent.
Various Firefox offshoots have been released. There is the Fennec mobile variant for Windows Mobile and Maemo platforms. The Flock Web 2.0 browser directly integrates social networks like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook into the user interface, while the minimal Prism integrates web and desktop by presenting web applications as if they were desktop programs. The success of Firefox has also had an impact on Mozilla's other projects like the similarly successful Thunderbird email client, or the recently released version 2.0 of the SeaMonkey suite. Developers have based dozens of applications on Mozilla's code. The Foundation has long ceased to consider itself a mere software forge and is now also an organisation of open web standard and "better web" evangelists.
The current version 3.5.5 of Firefox is more popular than ever. Release 3.6 is almost ready and first drafts of version 4.0 are also available. However today may not see much work done on them. Today, the Mozilla Foundation is bound to be all about birthday celebrations. Congratulations Mozilla!