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Eight Years of Firefox (blog.mozilla.org)
155 points by pragmatictester on Nov 9, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

I think Firefox has to take a lot of credit for the state of the web today. In the early 2000s, it was usual for sites to be IE-only, or to be horribly broken in any alternative browser. It seems to me that the rise of popularity of Firefox correlated strongly with a drop in these IE-only sites, and I don't think that its unfair to label it as a dominant cause of this drop. Even if Firefox dies completely and leaves behind only Chrome, Safari, Opera and IE in its wake, I think it's still fair to call it a great victory for open standards and open source.

>I think Firefox has to take a lot of credit for the state of the web today.

Of course. It was Firefox that broke IE's grip on web-standards.

Yep, and without a standards-based web it would be hard to see such a bright situation for platforms like iOS and Android.

Right. Although it's hard to know if Firefox was the cause, one of many causes, or just something around at the right time to get caught up in an inevitable change. History is hard, even only 8 years later. Still, it seemed to me at the time to be at least partially causal.

I'm confident it was Firefox. Not the browser, but the community-based marketing campaign - Spread Firefox when it was launched, and before that geeks installing Firefox on their parent's computers (and so on).

For me, a key moment was when my not-very-computery Mum, without prompting by me, phoned up her stockbroker to complain the site didn't work on Firefox. She did so because she felt Firefox was the "latest greatest thing", and blamed the broker for not supporting it.

In my view, modern Apple wouldn't have been possible without the Firefox community web standards campaign. The version 1 iPhone would have bombed if most websites hadn't worked on it.

Likewise, modern Google wouldn't have been possible. Projects like Google Docs, Mail and Maps are much better because of the standards push that started with the Firefox community. It lets Google compete directly with Microsoft.

Not to discredit Firefox for spearheading our revolt against the IE monopoly, but I think Firefox has sometimes been given too much credit for everything from standard compliance to innovation, and not enough credit to other browsers on the market.

First of all, standard compliance. I don't think Firefox 1.0 or its ancestors and subsequent version are all that standard compliant. Yes, for about 1 year in 2004-2005 it was the most standard compliant browser on the planet and could display most sites not written specifically for IE the way they were meant to be. But that drive to remain standard compliant quickly evaporated. When Safari 2.0 came out in 2005, it passed Acid2 and continued to be the most standard compliant, fastest browser on the planet with the cleanest code base for the next couple of years. And yes, it could render sites just as well as Firefox. Firefox OTOH, didn't pass it until 3.0 came out in 2008, and the second to last to pass Acid3.

Secondly, usability. I don't think Firefox from the day it came out to the present day is all that great in terms of UX. People seem to have forgotten that most of the browser UI features we take for granted came from Opera and later Chrome. Tabbed browsing? Opera first. Tab preview? Opera first. Most visited sites? Opera first. Tab groups? Opera first. Download Manager that speaks BT? Opera first. Mouse gestures? Opera first. The driver to innovative browser UI had always been Opera ever since IE dominated the market until Chrome came along in 2008 with its tab in title bar and omnibox. The only thing Firefox pioneered is the 3D view in the newer Firefox's inspect bar, which they somehow prioritized over consolidating all those overlapping and confusing developer tools, and making live editing in the markup panel possible, as in Firebug had been doing since 2007ish.

Third, under the hood innovation. Since the Netscape era to the present day I think the one most prevalent problem is misplaced focus. Mozilla simply has way too many sub-projects going on, not all of them important, and all of them compete for resources. Just look at how many man-hours Mozilla devs have wasted on technology that no one likes to use / can use but nevertheless bloat up Gecko. XPCOM, XUL, all those W3C alphabet soup X* standards in the early days, and then later on putting more and more JS features like let and generators into the JS engine. The APIs used to write extensions were a TERRIBLE mess before FUEL came out.

Lastly, speed, memory usage, and stability. Not until last year Firefox' launch speed was the slowest of all. It was unbearable and had not been addressed until very recently. Same for memory usages. In terms of JS exec speed and rendering speed, it was also among the slowest, only slightly faster than IE, though there has been significant improvement in this area as well this year. In terms of stability, it was not until recently that it got a boost using the same technique Chrome pioneered.

I can keep going on and on but the one thing that I cannot stress more is Mozilla's inability to focus on what's important. There was a time when Netscape had 80% of the market and Firefox a trend to break through 40% usage, but innovation stagnated while Safari, Chrome and Opera have continued to improve by leaps and bounds. There seems to have been many significant improvements to these problems recently and I certainly hope to see more aggressive innovation and focus from the open source community around Mozilla.

practically nobody used Opera, Safari only was relevant on OSX (when was it released for Win? I do not remember).

Opera was innovating, but did not break any stranglehold. Remember you had to pay for it? Remember it had ads embedded?

My number 1 reason for using Firefox against IE was AdBlock. Killing those damn intrusive ads, banners, popups, the whole infestation was a godsend. IE didn't do it. Opera refused such plugins, because they were ad-supported themselves - I know cause I tried arguing with them at the time.

I don't think it is a coincidence that Chrome took off once AdBlock plugins became possible and available.

I now I am not alone in not being able to browse the web without blocked ads anymore - just like I am not able to watch regular TV with ads anymore as well.

Haha I knew that post was going to be unpopular.

FYI, Opera had been free as in beer since 2006, Safari on Windows since 2007. Irrelevant to the browser market of course because either had the number of extensions FF had available. Opera also had (and still have) a lot of trouble rendering sites that work with FF and IE, and Safari Win was so much unlike everything else on Windows, nobody uses it just because it's weird.

This post is about placing credits where they are due. Copying functionality from one browser to another one isn't innovation, but I have to admit that one major reason Firefox got popular was the extensions that copied all those functionality from Opera over before Firefox had them. For some reason Firefox never really got to reach 40% usage, and now it's too late. I'm just a little disappointed.

> and continued to be the most standard compliant, fastest > browser on the planet

That really depends on how and what you measure. For example, Gecko's CSS implementation was much more standards-compliant than WebKit's at the time... and continues to be so as of last time people actually measured, with the CSS 2.1 test suite.

But yes, WebKit does have better marketing there.

First you say this:

"I don't think Firefox from the day it came out to the present day is all that great in terms of UX." Then you prove that statement by talking about who invented features first and say "The driver to innovative browser UI had always been Opera".

These two things are unrelated. I stopped reading after that.

People that "stopped reading" after some point, but still went on to rant about an article, rarely provide any useful insight.

Case in point.

Oh, and "those two things" are not unrelated. His argument is that Firefox never drove UI innovation, and almost all the good things we now take for granted were copied from other browsers (Opera and Chrome). Left to itself, Firefox had (and would continue to have) a subpar UI.

Your point is that being a late adopter of UI goodness doesn't preclude you having a good UI. But "good UI" is relative. If you are a late adopter your UI is always worse than the competition.

I really hope this doesn't get down-voted because it's a little promotional, but I posted a video interview with Mozilla's chairwomen Mitchell Baker today, she said some interesting things I think.


Direct YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCWtvtwhFCk



or simply "chair".

Or just "chairman" because it's the name of a position within a board or meeting and is gender neutral.

I find the term discriminatory against stools and benches.

Eight years and 800,000 bugs:


Given its age and heritage and historical influence (and given that it's used by hundreds of millions of people), Mozilla's codebase is right up there with Linux and GNU as one of the most impressive examples of open-source software.

I can't tell if this is sarcastic. But before I read this post I was going to say how much I love Firefox but regret how they fail to address bugs before implementing new features. 800,000 bugs is nothing to be proud of.

Mozilla bugzilla has reached bug id 800000. Mozilla typically file a bug for every actionable item, not just defects; the number of non-bogus, non-duplicate, non-feature-request, non-tracking-bug, and non-firefox-bugs (website, thunderbird, all other products since inception) will be much, much fewer.

Yes, this. There have been 800,000 bugs filed for all groups within Mozilla. We use bugzilla for managing projects and tasks (ex: a request for the Firefox 8th birthday cake graphic in the blog post). It's not just for tracking Firefox bugs. We use it for just about everything.

Not sarcastic. The only bug-free software is software that has no users.[1] A well-fed bug tracker is one of those Good Problems To Have.

[1] With the exception of http://www.fastcompany.com/28121/they-write-right-stuff

800,000 reported bugs, not unfixed. Plus there are a lot of duplicates, invalid and similar.

It is not true that the number of bugs users have found and reported correlates linearly with "how buggy" a piece of software is.

And it isn't true that every piece of software is born with the number of bugs, and the number of solved bugs in the tracker is a measure of how close to perfection the software is.

But the second is much closer to the truth than the first.

I remember making the jump from Netscape 4.72 to Mozilla 1.2, modulo a little dalliance with IE when it was still ahead of the curve. I've been on Mozilla/Firefox ever since, and never made the jump to Chrome as my main browser (though I have it installed). Firefox just keeps getting better and better, and I'm delighted at how the friendly competition between Firefox and Chrome is driving faster improvement to both, rather than the divisive extend/embrace/extinguish competition between Netscape and IE.

Ah, Netscape! I still have its throbber animation[1] indelibly burnt into my memory.

I also still remember being a bit baffled as to all the excitement people were expressing over something as mundane as a web browser. Remember the full-spread two-page launch ad in the New York Times?[2] Firefox was probably the first time I'd ever heard of something "open source" in my entire life. And of course, tabbed browsing was love at first sight.

[1] http://www.jwz.org/doc/about-nscp-anim.gif

[2] http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/press/mozilla-2004-12-15.html

Opera had tabbed browsing way before anyone else, in 2000. And actually even before that by handling pages as MDI document windows in its early versions.

I used Opera all through the long night of IE6 hegemony, although always ready to switch back to IE whenever a site didn't work in Opera. There was a good, actively developed, standards-compliant browser available that whole time. It just never caught on in terms of popularity and mindshare. I hardly even noticed Firefox until around version 3.

I didn't intend to downplay the importance of Opera, I just hadn't heard of it until I was well into college (during which I used it as my primary browser for about half a year; to this day I still have Opera's back/forward mouse-button rocker gestures mapped in Firefox). There's no question (afaik) that Opera was the first to get on the tab train.

They weren't even tabs when Opera invented them. It just had a toolbar at the bottom, see here:


This is the ad-supported version 5, you had to enter a key to remove them. Prior versions were shareware.

StarOffice had a similar idea but they made an effort to show where they were drawing inspiration from: http://i.imgur.com/fiQ5c.jpg

(For those who are wondering, yes LibreOffice is its legacy.)

Eight years since 1.0, though its history dates back a lot further. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Firefox

It's actually more than 10 years now. The first binaries of Phoenix were available in September 2002.

I don't remember when I exactly switched. But I remember that Mozilla was a huge pile of bloat, Galeon had some internal trouble, and Konqueror/KHTML had problems with several websites (mostly JS stuff IIRC).

Firefox is still my favorite browser!

I don't remember which version I started on, but remember a friend showed me one of the Phoenix betas. I had been using Netscape, and then the Mozilla suite, but I was blown away by what I saw. Ever since then, in some form or another I've used firefox.

I like firefox a lot, it's the browser I use almost all of the time.

I really like the way firefox allows me to sync bookmarks across devices.

I really like the fireftp add on.

I don't like the way firefox makes me wait sometimes while it updates.

It's really hard to figure out some things.

One time I accidentally forgot to press the tab key after entering my username on log-in and entered my password in the username box (in plaintext). It took ages (even after googling) to figure out how to stop firefox offering my username+password as a log-in suggestion

For those who don't know, it's possible to remove an autocomplete suggestion by highlighting it and pressing the delete key. This works for HTML form fields and address/search bar suggestions.

I didn't know about that, thanks

whoa! thanks.

I remember being at uni (UWE Bristol), downloading the zip and exporting to program files. My mates thought I was crazy until they saw tabbed browsing...wow!

The first time I used tabbed browsing was using Opera waaaaay too many years ago. :)

I'd forgotten how cool that was at the time.

hah weird seeing another UWE person on here. What are you doing now?

I couldn't find a decent grad role in Bristol so I ended up in London, where I've since settled. I'm a dev after graduating in 2004 with a Computing and Information Systems degree. Since I graduated I realise that a few my UWE lecturers were really good. I didn't see the point in being asked to read Kent Beck and Martin Fowler or what I'd learn from substituting Slackware Linux's ls for my own shoddy implementation, but now I see that those visiting lecturers from Rolls Royce and Airbus knew what I'd need to know in the real world. Doing a Sandwich course and spending a year writing production code for Pfizer was beneficial too. You?


Wow, two fellow UWE people! I had to go back and double check what I was reading!

favorite quote from Mike Shaver (in context) from http://john.jubjubs.net/2011/09/15/mike-shaver-thanks/

"And [Shaver] affected my framing of the problem deeply – I remember one day a couple of years back when we were talking about some market share point, thinking about how incredibly, insanely competitive the browser technology landscape was – and he said to me: 'Look, this is the world we wanted. And this is the world we made.' Wow. Exactly right. He taught me so much about how enormous an impact a group of dedicated people can make."

Firebox's firebug addon makes it worth the price of admission. Thanks for a great 8 years FF!

Side note: if you could add support for base64 pngs embedded with the data uri you could really help me out of a jam...

File a bug to request that :) https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/

I might have misunderstood, but doesn't this blog post describe doing that already? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4759099

data: png images work for me in Firefox. You can test your own data: images here:


I'll never forget the first time I try Phoenix 0.1, all the way to Firefox 1.0, and still continue using it now with version 18 (Aurora).

You're such a browser hipster ;)

while i applaud firefox for pushing IE off the stranglehold it had on sites (see mjb's comment), i cannot forget the stagnation it endured for a while with its crummy memory performance for long running users. it took a couple of years for someone to acknowledge that yeah, that's a real issue and worth fixing (IIRC it was heap fragmentation, beautifully visualized in a blog post where the author basically said "holy smokes! people were right!"). i turned to safari briefly and now to chrome and haven't looked back.

firefox's position allowed it to get sluggish in features and performance. a lack of true competition in alternative browsers for that brief period of time (you either used IE and were afraid to move, were prevented from it in a corporate setting, or you used firefox and wouldn't go back) showed that such stagnation can happen to anyone. bloat, performance drops, etc ...

thanks for opening up the web, but that stretch of time has forever burned me on mozilla products.

I think that during that time period they were so focused on other things that the memory problems crept in and didn't get addressed. On the plus side, they now have both the best features and some of the best memory management of browsers.

I remember using netscape (maybe 4...?) I'd just upgraded and remember for whatever reason double clicking on a html doc on my desktop and watching it sit there load up an entire suite of apps I wasn't going to use.

That was it, immediately switched to IE. I preferred Netscape but the load time was too frustrating.

And then when firefox came out (or at least one of the later version) I remember repeating that exact same thing. I needed to open a html file on the desktop and IE was sloooow. So I tried firefox, much much faster. And then there was firebug.. no contest, game set and match.

I switched to chrome for about a year because it seemed to render pages faster but about 3 months ago I ran into some weird problem where chrome stopped playing youtube videos properly. Tried everything, no luck, switched back to firefox and actually... I think I'll stick with it, it's a great browser.

In my humble opinion I think that while Firefox has asked some ground in market share, does a great job with the web and compete against the negligent microsoft products had 8 years to give us a better browsing experience we know today has much to do calving with Firefox.

Can't believe it's been this long since I ditched Opera and started using Firefox as my main browser.

I can't believe that it's only 8 years since firefox started

Today is the anniversary of the settled identity crisis that once was. Firefox has served me great for years though and now I can't imagine calling it anything else.

I rememer Firefox primarily for being a snappy browser, they got rid of the kitchen sink Netscape/Mozilla suite bloat. Sadly Firefox is now far behind in regard to performance compared to webkit-based browsers, for which the XUL/Toolkit, the feature creep and the legacy support are probably responsable.

Using Firefox nowadays just feels too slow, even though it's addon ecosystem is unrivaled.

Thanks for informing it has been 8 years I used this product, I think the longest of any other leaving aside my OS. It was hard parting ways few weeks ago but it was done and now I don't regret.

Good luck for your future.

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