The History of Mozilla's Firefox Web Browser

Firefox
Wikimedia Commons

Mozilla's Firefox continues to be a major player in the Web browser realm, holding a significant market share. The browser, which has garnered high praise from both users and developers alike, carries with it a cult-like following. Some users of the Mozilla application tend to be very passionate about their browser of choice, and this is perhaps most evident when looking at things like this Firefox crop circle.

Where the History Began

Back in September 2002, there was the release of Phoenix v0.1. The Phoenix browser, which would eventually become known as Firefox in later releases, started out looking like a stripped down version of the browser we know today.

Although lacking many of the features that make Firefox so popular today, the initial release of Phoenix did contain tabbed browsing and a download manager which were far from commonplace in browsers at that time. As later versions of Phoenix were made available to beta testers, the enhancements began to come in bunches. By the time Phoenix v0.3 was released in mid-October of '02, the browser already contained support for extensions, a sidebar, an integrated search bar, and more.

Playing The Name Game

After several months of polishing the existing features and fixing bugs, Mozilla ran into a roadblock with the name of the browser in April 2003.

It turned out that a company named Phoenix Technologies had developed their own open-source browser and they, in fact, owned a trademark for the name. It was at this point Mozilla was forced to change the project's name to Firebird.

The first release under the browser's new moniker, Firebird 0.6, became the first version available for Macintosh OS X in addition to Windows, giving the Mac community a taste of what was to come.

Released May 16, 2003, version 0.6 introduced the very popular Clear Private Data feature and also included a new default theme. For the next five months, three more versions of Firebird would come out containing tweaks to plugin control and automatic downloading among others, as well as a collection of bug fixes. As the browser inched closer toward its first public release, another naming snafu would cause Mozilla to shift gears once again.

The Saga Continues

An open-source relational database project in existence at the time bore the Firebird label as well. After initial resistance from Mozilla, the database's development community eventually applied enough pressure to prompt yet another name change for the browser. For the second and final time, the browser's name was officially changed from Firebird to Firefox in February of 2004.

Mozilla, seemingly frustrated and embarrassed about the naming issues, released this statement after the change was made: "We've learned a lot about choosing names in the past year (more than we would have liked to). We have been very careful in researching the name to ensure that we will not have any problems down the road. We have begun the process of registering our new trademark with the US Patent and Trademark office."

With the final alias in place, Firefox 0.8 was introduced on February 9, 2004, containing the new name and new look. In addition, it contained the offline browsing feature as well as a Windows installer which replaced the previous .zip delivery method. Over the next several months intermediate versions were released to address some remaining defects and security glitches as well as to introduce features such as the ability to import Favorites and other settings from Internet Explorer.

In September, the first public release version was made available, Firefox PR 0.10. Several search engine choices were added to the search bar, including eBay and Amazon.

Among other features, the RSS capability in Bookmarks made its debut.

It took only five days after the public release for Firefox to pass the one million download mark, exceeding expectations and beating Mozilla's self-imposed 10-day goal to hit the coveted mark.

Mozilla's Firefox Web Browser: It's Official!

After two release candidates were presented on October 27 and November 3, the much anticipated official launch finally happened on November 9, 2004. Firefox 1.0, available in over 31 languages, was well received by the public. Mozilla even raised money from thousands of donors to promote the launch, and a New York Times ad that ran in mid-December rewarded them by displaying their names along with the Firefox symbol.

Firefox, Part Deux

The browser underwent more changes and new features were continuously added since that day in late 2004, leading up to the major release of version 1.5 and finally version 2.0 on October 24, 2006.

Firefox 2.0 introduced enhanced RSS capabilities, spell-checking within forms, improved tabbed browsing, a sleeker new look, Phishing Protection, Session Restore (which restores your open tabs and web pages in the event of a browser crash or accidental shutdown), and more. This new version really caught on with both the public and with add-on developers, who seemed to produce an endless supply of extensions almost overnight. The power of Firefox continued to grow with the help of a passionate and ingenious development community as these add-ons continued to take the browser to new heights.

Firefox, named after the Red Panda found in the Himalayas, Nepal, and southern China, continued to move up the charts in its chase of Internet Explorer.

The Next Decade

The next decade saw a litany of changes in the browser realm -- most notably better Web standards, mobile browsing becoming an everyday activity for much of the world's population, as well as a ton of added competition by heavy hitters like Google Chrome, Opera and Apple Safari in addition to smaller niche browsers boasting their own unique feature sets.

Firefox continues to be a major player in the market, offering new features and enhancing existing functionality on a regular basis.