A decade ago, the Mozilla project was in something of a crisis. The once-dominant browser (a direct descendant of Mosaic, the first graphical browser) had long ago been surpassed in usage by Microsoft Internet Explorer, in part the result of Microsoft’s leveraging its dominant operating system to recapture the Internet.
Mozilla was born when Netscape Communicator‘s code opened up to the global developer community, the first piece of “household name” software to go from proprietary to open source code. But the simple browser had become a full-blown suite of communication tools — Email, chat, even a web development environment. All of these tools loaded at once, clogging up computer memory (slowing down computers) and chewing up dial-up bandwidth (slowing down the web). Mozilla needed a strategy to keep the project from spiraling into oblivion.
Kudos to the person who had the idea to split up all the tools, and allow people to run just what they wanted. Thus, Firefox was born! This was the first of the lean browsers, lightning fast for its time, both for loading pages and simply displaying on the screen. Firefox also introduced the idea of modular extensions, allowing independent developers to add functionality to the basic browser engine provided by Mozilla.
Mozilla’s email client became Thunderbird, and won many fans. The web coding tool, Composer, spun off into a series of different applications, none of which ever became popular. Because the code was still open source, even the suite continued under the SeaMonkey banner. All this code runs on practically every operating system known to humans and bots, including the Firefox OS for mobile devices.
Firefox reignited the browser wars, and eventually eclipsed Internet Explorer by out-innovating Microsoft. As a result, Google got into the browser business with Chrome. These days, Chrome is at the top of the browser pile, with Firefox, Apple’s Safari and IE trailing. As with many things Google, Chrome is a proprietary browser running atop open source code, called Chromium.
Today, the Firefox team released the Firefox Developer Edition, a special browser with built-in tools for both the mobile OS and ordinary web designers and developers. I’ve got this downloaded, and hope to learn more about it in the coming days (if you’ve read through all my NaBloPoMo posts this month, you’ll know that I’ve got a lot of learning ahead of me).
Meanwhile, I continue to use Firefox as my primary browser, in part because of its open character, in part out of habit. Happy Birthday Firefox!