In the mid-1990s personal computers were just beginning to be seen in homes, and the Internet was a new phenomenon. Companies were being started to compete in this new market, and several web browsers and operating systems vied for primacy. Operating systems available at that time included Microsoft Windows, IBM OS/2 and Linux. The major web browsers were Mosaic, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape’s Communicator.
In 1998 Netscape announced that it would release the source code for Communicator. This was intended to lead to improvements in the browser and spark interest in the enterprise version of the browser. Many programmers took advantage of this release to experiment with this free code. One group of programmers started a project they called Mozilla.
One of the early logos of the Netscape Corporation was Mozilla, a cartoon dinosaur. The name Mozilla was a combination of Mosaic-killer and Godzilla. Godzilla was a popular Japanese movie monster at the time. The name and logo represented Netscape’s determination to unseat Mosaic as the most popular browser. When Netscape released its source code, the name was a natural choice for developers using this code. Mozilla.org was born.
Mozilla was an open project. Developments were posted on the Internet, and programmers and developers from all over the world contributed improvements and new functions. In 2002 the organization released its first full version of a browser based on the Netscape code, Mozilla 1.0. However, Mozilla 1.0 was not a popular success. Internet Explorer was dominating the market by this time; it was being used by over 90% of web users.
Phoenix Rises from the Ashes of Communicator
In the same year the Mozilla project also produced a new browser called Phoenix. By this time Mozilla was starting to move away from creations that were meant to be improved versions of Communicator. The new direction was toward creating their own, totally new software, and making it available to everyone. Phoenix was the first step in that direction.
Phoenix becomes Firefox
In 2003 members of the Mozilla project formed the non-profit organization, the Mozilla Foundation. The foundation continued the goal of releasing new software and improving on existing projects. They placed much emphasis on Phoenix over the next year. Phoenix was soon renamed to Firebird and then to Firefox due to similarities to the names of other software programs. In 2004 Firefox 1.0 was released. It was downloaded by over 100 million users in its first year.
The new Firefox browser came with many innovative features.
- Pop-up Blocker – Pop-ups were a relatively new advertising method at the time, and Firefox offered the option to prevent these screens from appearing over the page being viewed.
- Anti-Fraud Features – Another new phenomenon at this time was attempts to capture information such as credit card data and passwords. Firefox implemented features to prevent these by identifying secure sites.
- Integrated Web Searching – Firefox integrated search functions for such popular sites as Google, Amazon.com, Yahoo! and eBay.
- Migration Other Browsers – This feature was useful for users that wanted to switch to Firefox after having used other browsers for some time. Firefox included an easy-to-use function to import bookmarks, cookies, passwords and other user data from other browsers.
Over the years Firefox has continued to improve and innovate, while steadily increasing the percentage of users that choose it. Firefox is estimated to be the third most popular browser today, behind Internet Explorer and Google Chrome. Firefox currently offers version 11.0 and is more popular than ever.