Firefox, The Authentic Old Rocker of The Web That Never Dies

On February 9, 2004 the Mozilla Foundation, created less than a year before, published an official announcement especially significant: the arrival of Firefox 0.8, the first public version of the browser that first adopted that name. Firefox was Firebird and Phoenix first then, but both nomenclatures gave problems for companies and projects with the same name.

Probably do not remember it, but in February 2004 There is a protagonist in the world of web browsers: Internet Explorer. The development had been included natively in their – today infausta – version 6.0 on Windows XP already consolidated, and users seem to not need anything else. But it seemed just.

The world needs an open browser (ba)

At that point it was already almost 11 years that a young (and still with hair) Marc Andreessen developed Mosaic, the first “modern” web browser. Andreessen would end up being signed by Jim Clark founded Netscape, the company that would actually begin to relate that as diffuse yet of Internet, and that its creators ended up selling to AOL by 4,200 million in 1999 in one of the balls of that era pre-burbuja.

In those years Netscape continued to grow as a browser, but in 1998 the dominance of Internet Explorer – that had been included in version 1.0 in Windows 95 – was beginning to be worrying. In Netscape, they decided to create a parallel effort that resulted in the Mozilla browser. That browser was notable for being an Open Source development, and based on the source code of Netscape Communicator 4.0. The relationship between the official browser of Netscape and Mozilla parallel project would break soon after: in Netscape they wanted to focus their efforts at the company, and in Mozilla decided to create the Gecko rendering engine and developing their own browser – the same name – on those bases and, of course, maintaining the Open Source philosophy.

Some of the developers of Mozilla did not see clear that having a suite of Internet applications similar to the proposed Netscape. The Mozilla suite – that today still operating under the SeaMonkey project was a Mastodon without too much sense to this group – formed by Joe Hewit Dave Hyatt and Blake Ross, that was launched to create an experimental branch of the Mozilla Suite called simply “m/b” (for mozilla/browser), as well as a mail client which began its history with the name of Minotaur but that would end up calling Thunderbird.

The experimental branch was the real seed of Firefox that we know today. The project began calling himself Phoenix (who kept five versions of the draft, the 0.1 to 0.5), but a dispute over the trademark of the manufacturer’s BIOS did Mozilla changed the name to Firebird (which in turn had two versions, the 0.6 and the 0.7). This designation was also being used for a Server Open Source databases, so they had again to rename the project. Firefox was the name chosen, and its first edition, the 0.8, would appear that designated on February 9, 2004. All these initial versions remain available to users in the Mozilla download site, and in fact catch you a little further up is the Engadget page in that first version of Phoenix 0.1 launched on September 23, 2002.

The experimental development turned into something much more serious very soon. Asa Dotzler, one of the heads of Mozilla, told how to comment with Blake Ross at the time both realized that it needed to make a browser that does not cover the current users. “The widest audience is the IE users, and they don’t need an HTML authoring tool or a mail client. Give them just a browser better with blocking pop-ups and navigation tabs”. So it all began.

Viral growth

The release of Firefox came just at the moment. Long time that Microsoft had become “bad film” for many users, and its decision to integrate Internet Explorer into its Windows operating systems had given them an advantage which made it virtually impossible to compete. Or so it seemed.

That browser soon showed their weaknesses, and the adoption of Firefox was amazing for the time. Many of you probably remember the launch of Firefox 1.0 “GreenLane” Preview Release on September 14, 2004 caused a sensation, and made it largely thanks to the implementation underway of the marketing initiative (now defunct) SpreadFirefox that encouraged users to exceed one million downloads in 10 days since the launch.

The figure was soon left small. The million downloads would surpass in just four days, and in the first 30 days since the launch Firefox makers claimed to already have more than 10 million downloads. Who tasted it not used to go back to something else. Firefox convinced, and did so with reason.

In that effort to marketing pioneers joined some strategies at the time. Among them highlighted the influence that had various technology blogs, which inserted in its pages a button for downloading Firefox. That button is spread virally: Firefox was what was cool at the time, and those tens of most influential blogs soon joined them hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of other pages that also added that button which called to test the Open Source browser.

To convince users of Internet Explorer’s migration, Firefox had to touch that keyboard shortcuts – which initially were different – coincided with the browser from Microsoft, something that left clear in the release notes. They also highlighted the possibility of blocking annoying pop-ups that flooded our screens at that time, and even a specific nod to Linux users and integration with GNOME: Firefox quickly became the reference in that platform.

Other measures of the notorious initial marketing campaign was the famous ad that Mozilla published in The New York Times on 15 December 2004. Version 1.0 of the browser was released a month earlier and had already exceeded 11 million downloads, and giving campaign that Mozilla had set up to raise funds for your marketing efforts – and to sign “the Declaration of independence from a monopolized and stagnant web” – also gave the expected result. Those two pages unveiled Firefox to an entire sector of the population that he realized something important: there were alternatives in the segment of web browsers.

From that moment the growth in the use of the browser was notable, even when competition with Internet Explorer was certainly being complicated. The European Union would not react against this attitude of Microsoft very late, and the famous “ballot screen” that allowed to choose browser just install Windows would appear in March 2010. You would with criticism also for not introducing browsers in a random manner and condition the decision, and by own selection of chosen browsers – in its initial version, half of the alternatives used the Trident of IE – rendering engine.

That didn’t matter too much, because Firefox numbers continued to grow steadily. July 31, 2009 Mozilla announced a singular achievement: having passed the 1,000 million downloads a browser that by then it was in version 3.5 and that already bore 75 different languages. Market share continued to grow at the expense of an Internet Explorer that had fallen asleep and was predicted that Firefox would beat IE in market share during 2009.

That growth He was braking with one blow with the arrival of an alternative surprise. September 1, 2008 Google announced the launch of Google Chrome, rating them “a point of view fresh in browsers” and it focused on sections of Firefox at that time seemed to have neglected despite having similar original targets. Chrome wanted to bet on a philosophy that he had success in your browser: “as the classical home page of Google, Google Chrome is clean and fast”.

The presentation of that browser – with a fantastic comic that many recall – was a jug of cold water for the aspirations of Firefox, which saw how Google project respond adequately to the needs of many users. Its JavaScript engine clinched against the Chrome -something that is now very contentious – and features as the separate and isolate each tab as if was an independent process caught the attention of a community of users becoming more concerned with the performance and security of their browsers. The search giant was already really giant at that time, and his impulse to Chrome was relentless, and, above all, effective.

Mozilla wanted to remove iron to the topic, and facing the respectable claimed that that “Chrome is not aimed to compete with Firefox”, and that this release would not affect the relationship between Google and Mozilla. While this last is true – at least, time-the first was not so. Chrome racing with all, and managed to steal share all. In fact, according to figures from StatCounter, Chrome had a 25.69% share in November 2011, while Firefox reached 25.23%. First Firefox browser fell to third place from virtually birth. Net Applications in those figures were different (Firefox maintained a 22.14% 18.18% of Chrome in the same period), but all media were launched to take advantage of the titular easy.

That war of market shares It has been several years mediated by these two great references. While StatCounter count systems have always favored alternative browsers – and especially to Chrome-, the NetApplications have been especially favor to Internet Explorer. Actually have to take studies of one and one – on Wikipedia you can see a summary of market shares of these and other suppliers – with the same attitude: with perspective. It is difficult to know what is the real state of the market, but the data are consistent if one understands the metrics used by both companies. Much has been discussed who lies about who is telling the truth, but gave one of the best explanations on the subject, surprisingly, one of marketers for Internet Explorer at Microsoft. Roger Capriotti, responsible for that post on the blog of Windows, let it clear in its conclusions:

Certainly there is no perfect way of measuring the market share of browsers worldwide. Why we focus on using the data provided the most accurate representation of the current use of quota in the world. Although both Net Applications and StatCounter often show similar trends, it is important to note that certain steps must be taken into account to accurately represent a quantitative assessment of fee worldwide.

Of course, that provoked even more debate, in which both StatCounter makers as independent investigators threw their own impressions. Virtually all major media were considered – among the prominent examples, The Wall Street Journal–that fact and made it clear that the battle for market share was rather symbolic: how important were the trends.

And the trends have continued to be evident. The arrival of Chrome led to stagnation and the gradual fall of Firefox, in both consulting firms is appreciated in a way clear but its magnitude is different in one or the other. We have used a graph with data from Net Applications by covering a range of broader time – indeed, covers the arrival of Firefox, that interested us especially – but the truth is that in this evolutionary chart not importantly both market share and that clear battle that Firefox now not only against Internet Explorer , your “enemy ‘s” traditional, but front Chrome.

The first modular browser

Probably things that Firefox defend the Open Source flag does not care about actually too many people. The label gave him a sexy halo, no doubt, but others were the foundations of the success of the project. And without a doubt among the most prominent was the Extensions support.

That support was an unexpected gift of the extensible nature of the original Mozilla suite with its wide modularity. XUL markup language allowed to expand the features and performance of the browser through a few long called extensions and components in recent years fall within the plug-ins or add-ons. In fact, that same language enabled not only those extensions, but that extensive customization support through topics that also loved to users of modern browsers.

Extensions were undoubtedly a before and an after in this segment, and became a decisive factor that users decide to install Firefox. That generated throughout an ecosystem in which developers not needed to create a Firefox-specific fork – although they could- to build a custom browser: the extensions allow the same with much less effort.

Management of extensions and themes by Mozilla was also held at a very early stage: in June 2004 would appear Firefox 0.9 and with a new manager of supplements was trying to facilitate a task since then has not stopped being used by users. The possibilities seemed endless, and the use of other technologies such as CSS, DOM, JavaScript and XPCOM would be fundamental to enhance this modularity and extensibility of the browser It showed to be able to grow at a much faster pace than what their competitors and, above all, Internet Explorer did.

We have seen in the past 10 years of Firefox – and we will continue seeing – extensions for everyone. From the most obvious – RSS readers, managers of favorites, FTP clients or mail clients, gesture recognizers, IRC clients- up to powerful transforming experience, with an outstanding example, Greasemonkey, not to mention the most popular extension Firefox of all time, inevitable in this review, and hope to have at least off to Weblogs sites: Adblock Plus, which yesterday held have a whopping 20.2 million users on Firefox.

All this modularity has been awarded for the interest of the users: already in July 2012 has exceeded the 3000 million downloads add-ons – regret not having latest figures-, and that taste for extensions has gone beyond the desktop and is also characteristic highlighted on Firefox for Android, as we will see later.

The defense of web standards

The key pillar holding up this project by Mozilla (and everyone else,) in reality is its Open Source philosophy. With this way of understanding the concept of software not surprisingly be defined soon also approach to the support of web technologies. Except in cases of exceptional, almost inevitable (as a reference Flash in this case) the Firefox browser has been a leader in support of web standards.

Was certainly in support of HTML4, the standard that dominated our lives online a few years ago, but also was it with many other components Fundamentals of the web as the current HTML5, XML, XHTML, MathML, SVG, CSS, JavaScript, DOM, XSLT, Xpath, and other standards than de facto as the formats of audio, video, or image.

Mozilla rarely became creator of standards – something that Chrome tries frequently with proposals (open, that Yes) like SPDY, WebM or Exciton-, but if he cared, and lot, requirements as best as possible It imposed such standards.

During a good season, for example, the comparisons were famous between browsers that support standards: testing Acid2 and Acid3 mostly became a singular way of showing which developments seemed to be most advanced in this support of web standards. In the vast majority of Internet Explorer was defeated – humiliating way, I would add-, although criticism of these tests, with some rather anecdotal characteristics and without as much relevance as they wanted us to see, also have made them something less relevant in recent times.

Blessed tab

Tabbed browsing was not of course creation of Mozilla or Firefox, but this browser was that most probably contributed to extend the popularity of this paradigm of usability that it would later be extended to other applications in all types of operating systems.

This was without a doubt one of the defining features of that browser that surprised everyone with a management that caused any disruption in the market for browsers: Once someone was testing the eyelashes, it was inconceivable to return to a browser without them. Not integrated internet Explorer until 2006, with the launch of its version 7, and that simple reason probably was one that made many users give the jump to Firefox in those years.

In Mozilla knew enhance features running, and tabbed browsing was a clear example. Version 1.1a2 which appear in July 2005 – Firefox 1.5 prelude – already supports reordering of tabs with the mechanism of drag and drop, while in Firefox 2.0a2 (May 2006) come the famous button close to each tab. Changes in the management of tabs of Firefox 3.1b1 (preliminary edition of Firefox 3.5) in October 2008 did not succeed and were eliminated almost immediately, but if changes in 2009 allowing to create navigation windows by dragging tabs out of the window in which were operated. And of course, also ran in design with that of the Tabs on Top in Mozilla 3.7a5 (June 2010), which would make that the tabs were above the bar of navigation, rather than a the dessert would also be prelude to continuous changes of trying to improve the user experience and design that have had their last big push recently with the arrival of Firefox 29 and the arrival of the eye-catching interface Australis.

A rapid development cycle

The first 7 years of life of this project were, at least on paper, quiet in the Firefox development cycle. Features, news and reviews (especially with security fixes and stability improvements) were arriving, but they did it to rhythms almost of operating systems.

In fact, the emergence of “older” versions occurred infrequently enough: Firefox 1.0 final version (not the PR) would appear on November 9, 2004, while in November’s 2005 Firefox 1.5 and Firefox 2.0 in October 2006. The thing is even more lengthened to Firefox 3.0 “Gran Paradiso”, which does not end until June 2008 version, although preliminary versions were already available since December 2006. Firefox 3.5 would appear a year later, in June 2009, and Firefox 4.0 would be not presented until March 22, 2011.

Between, of course, there had been dozens of preliminary versions that normally had a market share almost anecdotal: only users level and with taste by always having the latest (even if that meant instability or certain software conflicts) took advantage of those versions. Even with this more stable development cycle, divisions and criticisms were already in 2011 sometime appear. For many Firefox was something unchanging.

And was it, light, by the influence of Google Chrome. The browser from the search giant was a good example of this philosophy of “release early”, release often and in fact especially striking was his introduction of various channels of development for different types of user. The Dev channel, with the newest options but also the most unstable, for developers. The Beta for users who wanted to take certain risks, but not as many as the Dev channel, and finally the stable channel, for the vast majority of users who primarily value stability. To those channels, opened in January 2009, agonizes les channel Canary (with very green versions, even more than the Dev channel) in July 2010: Google wanted to launch new iterations of the browser every six weeks. The philosophy of Chrome was enviable, and its cycle of constant and transparent update – the majority of users do not know what version had, and not cared – was reference in this new era of web browsers.

That certainly did not occur with Internet Explorer, much more dependent on the versions of Windows. Few independent IE editions have been released without being predestined to a new version of the OS Microsoft. In Firefox the cycle was equally slow, and it seemed that that move to a round number could not do so as well.

That situation changed in April 2011, When Mozilla decided to announce a radical change in the cycle of development of Firefox. Thereafter be adopted a cycle of rapid development that was actually an adaptation of the model of Google Chrome. Different channels were created in Mozilla: Nightly for the nightly builds, Aurora for something more polished but still clearly unstable versions, Beta to go a step further in stability, and finally the channel Release for the final editions.

As in Chrome – long, clear reference for Firefox – the idea was the of release new versions every 6 weeks. That, of course, made that night to the morning a large number of versions “round” of Firefox, hardly distinguishable appear each other. If in seven years, up to 2011 only had come to Firefox 4, in the last three have been launched almost 30 other editions. We walk in the version of Firefox 33 Nightly, while Aurora is in version 32 Beta at the 31 and Firefox in stable release version 30.

The changes in these latest editions are of course more isolated and limited to that which existed in the previous cycle of development, but that does not prevent that evolution is constant. Much progress Firefox in these three years, and in fact – and this is a personal opinion – that development cycle has probably been the most successful decision that Mozilla has taken in a long time. That frenetic pace of emergence of versions It has forced to force machine to compete in a segment that Chrome was making too many challenges.

The inclusion of features throughout this cycle (and, of course, the previous) deserves, certainly an article apart by its extension. You have a great review on Wikipedia, although I would highlight some very obvious improvements. The first, which affects the JavaScript rendering engines, It became its own right in key components of the web browsers. The popularization of the use of this code made running in browsers of this kind of language was a factor key to their performance, and in Firefox existed some relaxation in this regard until Chrome came with its fantastic V8 engine.

Starting from there, Firefox was shortening distances with successive versions of that engine. To SpiderMonkey in Firefox 3.5 JagerMonkey happened in Firefox 4.0. There would be incremental in that engine improvements, while his successor, IonMonkey would in Firefox 18 (January 2013) and to the moment you OdinMonkey in Firefox 22 (June 2013). The evolution of the speed of these motors JavaScript became an obsession for Mozilla developers, some of whom launched the web Are we fast yet? with a evolutionary study of the performance of various engines browsers (Miss IE’s) based on different benchmarks (Kraken, SunSpider, Octane), and the seed of that battle because I could see in 2010 with articles from Asa Dotzler, one of those most responsible for the development of Firefox.

That performance obsession It has also resulted in other sections such as the management of the memory, a section that also criticizing you Firefox and which in recent times has been improved significantly. The last comparative show how Firefox behaves better than Chrome or Internet Explorer in most situations, but the own Mozilla is also very aware of these comparisons and for a time that he launched his own project comparativo-evolutivo: Are we slim yet?, very much in line with the study of JavaScript performance.

These clear improvements in performance are joined other notable features. In February 2011, Firefox became the first browser to integrate support for the Do Not Track option (DNT) allowing to disable user tracking through the sites you visited in your browser. With Firefox 10 would come the first edition ESR (Extended Support Release), aimed at companies and organizations such as universities and schools where the refresh cycle is less and need to lengthen in time.

They were also important functional as behavior changes when opening new tabs. Interestingly, this is one of the sections that most tend to change version in version, and does not seem to be a definitive answer to this problem by any browser. The synchronization options (powered with the latest editions of Firefox Sync), “silent” updates, continuous improvements to panel downloads, support for various formats of audio and video – special mention for the H.264 codec that Cisco released as Open Source in October 2013 – or the inclusion of private browsing modes (which already debuted in December of 2008) are some of these outstanding.

Mozilla’s strong beliefs in everything around to the Open Source philosophy does not always have been able to maintain the development of Firefox. The clearest example came more than one month ago, when this body responsible for announcing that future versions of the browser integrated mechanisms DRM for HTML5. This type of system they were a necessary evil to not stay behind in performance as regards other proposals, especially in providing the support of multimedia content from providers that require the use of such systems.

Worthy of mention, since then, tools for developers. The web console of Firefox that debuted in Firefox 4 marked the start of a long and fruitful relationship of Mozilla with web developers. Their options have not stopped increasing in all these years, and today this browser Open Source is a leader in this field. Impossible not to do recess at this point to highlight the extension par excellence of this historical relationship with developers: Firebug, which was created by Joe Hewitt, a former developer of Firefox, continues to be one of the examples of the power that extensions can contribute to this browser.

The conquest of mobile: via browser…

The popularity of Firefox on desktop operating systems (for PCs and laptops) became responsible for the Mozilla project realized that this development had accommodated in other platforms.

And of course, smartphones were the clear objective. Firefox for Mobile (“Fennec”) It appeared in January 2010, and did so in an original way: was only supported on Maemo. The first choice was clear: Firefox continued to maintain a strong relationship with Linux and Maemo was a mobile platform based on Debian.

Starting from there, the developers of this version for mobiles They focused on Android, with an initial version, the 4, which would be based on Firefox 4 for desktop and which would begin a long journey to try to conquer this mobile platform.

His success in this segment is, unfortunately, non-existent. Both Google and Apple, dominating the mobility segment, have used the same tactic Microsoft used to popularize Internet Explorer on your desktop. Safari on iOS and Chrome (or the native Android browser in previous versions of the OS) on Android are pre-installed browsers -the EU doesn’t seem to have much interest in them of time-, and of course that motivates are absolute highlights.

NetApplications here paint us a unique picture: according to your data in may 2014 Safari boasts a 48,72% share by 21.87% of Android browser and 15.79% of Chrome. Opera Mini is featured at 7.05%, and from hence away, Firefox appears with a 0.66% share. These figures do not correspond at all with the share that Android has in the global market for smartphones and tablets, and the truth is that in this case those data they are somewhat contradictory.

More consistent look like those offered by StatCounter, which indicates that the Android browser with a 23.35%, a 17.1% Chrome, iPhone (what you refer?) a 17.25% and Safari a 12.82%. Opera has a 9.83%, while a surprising UC Browser is back with an 8.48%. Firefox does not even appear specifically in these data, and it is included in “Other”, a set of alternatives that barely exceed 5% of total fee.

It will be difficult for the situation to change, and why Firefox for Android has several features of interest. The Flash support – while this type of content is no longer so relevant – is one of them, but they are also the support of plug-ins -something that Chrome does not offer in its mobile version, and clarify their responsible-. Native reading mode in Firefox (in Chrome can be a similar experience with applications like Instapaper, Pocket or Readability) is another one of their strengths, as it is its support for devices based not only on Ice Cream Sandwich (required for Chrome) but also for Gingerbread. Firefox for Android continues to improve in parallel to the desktop version, and it will be interesting to see if these options manage to materialize among users. There is no editing for iOS, however: and as makers of Mozilla, “Apple restrictions prevent that we bring the current version of Firefox to iOS devices”.

… or via operating system: Firefox OS to attack

The other great leg of the bet of Mozilla in the field of mobility is even more ambitious. Is concerned, how not, of Firefox OS, a mobile platform that makes the center of all the experience in the smartphone browser.

This proposal of Mozilla has been three years in development. Andreas Gal, research director at Mozilla, announced the launch of Boot to Gecko (B2G) in July 2011, and from that moment began the work in one alternative to that as in the case of the desktop browser advocated open web standards.

The essential commitment to these standards makes that in Firefox there is a set of native and proprietary APIs and an exclusive SDK for them as in the case of Google or Apple. Instead, in Firefox OS the fundamental ingredient is the HTML5 language, something that facilitates the use of code in various different devices, but it also has some negative implications. The most important, according to experts, is the fact that native applications are faster and more efficient that direct access to the resources of the hardware that in the standard HTML5 more hard to get.

Yet that platform has continued to reinforce its position, and today is a proposal that has very important support of the industry. The Spanish operator Telefonica is clear reference in that support, and indeed the operator is marketing next to some other some in emerging countries but also in our low-end terminals. Value that evolution is not subject of this article and the future of this mobile platform – although we already made an analysis of the platform makes time–but it was inevitable, not to mention a project that has the browser Firefox as absolute pillar and which could become a valid alternative if developers start to bet also by it.

All future ahead

The last 10 years have been dizzying for its favorite son, Firefox and Mozilla. The browser was something that seemed almost impossible: break the monopoly of Microsoft in this segment and open the doors to others also offered their own ideas in this field.

East development Open Source is one of the best examples of what can be achieved with this philosophy, and indeed in Mozilla tend to presume that 40% of Firefox should be to independent developers: altruistic programmers who give their time and resources to continue contributing their ideas and talent to a collaborative that half a billion people use worldwide.

It can that Firefox has suffered some recent more difficult years before the rise of Chrome and its limited role in mobile devices, but in Mozilla have taken all the decisions necessary to remain relevant. The cycle of rapid development on the desktop is proving its validity despite criticisms (perhaps too fast for some), while Firefox for Android keeps on improving and Firefox OS is a brave and interesting proposal that keeps those values that define a project that deserves the greatest respect, and that is before all future to demonstrate what is capable.