Mozilla has been one of my favorite open source projects since I first learned of them back in 2002. I remember downloading the Mozilla browser, and thinking that it was just like Netscape Navigator (no surprise there), an all-in-one browser that threw in the kitchen sink, just in case you needed it. You can still download it’s descendant, SeaMonkey. Not long after, I heard about another browser they were calling Phoenix, that, as it was explained to me, pulled out just the web browser from Mozilla, and left everything else alone. I downloaded it, and it was fantastic. Incredibly fast, lean, and simple. It became my favorite right away. There was only one release of Phoenix, after that the browser was renamed briefly to Firebird, and finally, Firefox.
It was an exciting time for the web. The world was starting to get broadband, but most connections were still dial-up. The slow connection speeds and slow computers meant that any small improvements in browsing meant a lot. To many people, the web was Internet Explorer. IE represented upwards of 90% of Internet traffic, so there was a real David and Goliath feel to Mozilla’s snappy little browser. There were many sites that rendered correctly only in IE, and Microsoft was busily expanding their monopoly on desktop computers to the web with FrontPage and IIS. The web could have turned out very different, and I like to think that we have the openness and inclusion of the web today in thanks, at least in part, to the work done by Mozilla back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Over the years Firefox has both grown and waned in popularity, but the impact of Firefox, and how it helped shape the web should not be underestimated. Today we have several projects that work to keep the web an open platform (like the ubiquitous WebKit project), but the work is far from over. Privacy online is a major issue for the future, as big companies become more sophisticated about tracking your activities on the web, and despite the advances of Firefox and other browsers like Chrome and Opera, Internet Explorer still makes up for the lions share of web traffic.
I’ve used all (or, ok, most of) the different browsers out there, but returning to Firefox always feels like coming home to me. Firefox is different because Mozilla is different. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to making the web a better resource for everyone. In my book, that’s something to be proud of. Mozilla is always looking for people who want to help, so if you feel like being part of something big, you might want to check it out.