On Friday 31, July 2009, Mozilla Firefox was downloaded for the one billionth time since its initial v1.0 release in 2004. (One billion is one-thousand million. Any version of the full installer is counted as ‘one’ download. Automatic updates are not included in the figure.)
To celebrate their success at reaching the milestone, Mozilla has launched a new website — One Billion + You.
There are a plethora of web browsers available today, so it’s easy to forget what the market was like just a few years ago. Internet Explorer 6 was released in 2001 and IE’s market share rapidly reached 95%+. A few competing browsers were available but they were either commercial products, such as Opera, or suites such as Mozilla and Netscape (which shared the Mozilla code base). The suites contained a browser, email application, news reader, IRC client, and HTML editing facilities. Few users needed these bloated applications especially when they were so slow and buggy.
Firefox started as an experimental project initiated by Dave Hyatt and Blake Ross. Their objective was to produce a stable, lightweight, and fast standalone web browser using the Gecko rendering engine. The browser first appeared in September 2002 and was appropriately named “Phoenix” (available from the evolt.org browser archive). It reached v0.5 by December of that year and started to attract the attention of the web development community.
The name was changed to “Firebird” in April 2003 following trademark issues with the BIOS manufacturer, Phoenix Technologies. Even though I was a long-time advocate of IE, the beta versions of Firebird were excellent and it became my default browser. Four releases were issued, with the last being version 0.7.1 in October 2003.
Mozilla’s naming woes continued and the Firebird database community forced a second change. “Firefox” was announced in February 2004 and, this time, Mozilla ensured all legal and trademark issues were resolved in advance! A number of releases appeared before Firefox 1.0 arrived on 9 November 2004. Unusually for an open source project, the browser quickly attained widespread awareness using innovative marketing campaigns. It was also an excellent alternative to IE and received complimentary reviews throughout the world.
Perhaps Firefox’s greatest appeal was its extensions system. Novice users were provided with a great browser, whilst developers and power-users could enhance the facilities. For the first time, programmers were given a fantastic set of development tools that enabled them to write and debug client-side code. IE’s “Object expected at line 0″ modal window looked positively antiquated in comparison. Many Ajax and Web2.0 applications would have been almost impossible to develop without Firefox and extensions such as Firebug.
Firefox changed the industry’s perception of what a browser was and what could be achieved. Its success gave companies such as Apple and Google the confidence to produce their own browsers. Opera was released as a free product and Microsoft backtracked on their announcement that IE6 would be the last standalone browser they produced.
The web community owes Mozilla a debt of gratitude. I’m sure the next billion downloads will occur significantly sooner than 2014!