Happy Birthday, Firefox

November 9, 2009

Today, November 9, is the fifth anniversary of the initial release of version 1.0 of the Firefox Web browser.  The browser project, originally named Phoenix and then Firebird (both names were changed due to trademark conflicts), had its origins in the decision by Netscape to open-source its browser suite, which led to the Mozilla project.  Phoenix/Firebird/Firefox was focused on producing a light-weight, standards-oriented browser, based on the underlying technology in the Mozilla Suite (which also included an E-mail client, for example).

At the time, Microsoft, by dint of some tactics that the Justice Department and the Federal Court found were not entirely in accordance with anti-trust law, had achieved a very high market share with its Internet Explorer browser.   Many Web sites would only work properly with Internet Explorer,  The prospects for a new browser, built as an open-source project, were hardly convincingly bright.

Today, Firefox’s current version is 3.5.5, (released last week), and the browser has become a solid open-source success story, and is the browser of choice for many.  It is notoriously difficult to get accurate global data on Web usage, but Firefox appears to be used by something like 300 million people every day; the browser has been downloaded more than 1 billion times.   WordPress.com, the site where you are reading this blog, reports the following current browser statistics:

  1. Firefox — 45.7%
  2. Internet Explorer — 38.7%
  3. Safari — 8.75%
  4. Chrome — 5.2%

Even if you are a fan of Internet Explorer, I think Firefox’s success has brought benefits.  Microsoft, after all, left users with Internet Explorer version 6 for years;  I think having some competition had an entirely salutary effect on the development of Internet Explorer  versions 7 and 8.  And Firefox’s commitment to open Web standards has, I would argue, helped Web developers, too; it is much easier to develop to a single set of standards than to have a different version of one’s site for each browser.  And the new HTML 5 standards for embedded audio and video, which Firefox supports, will help keep that part of the Web more accessible, too.

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