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Front Page » February 8, 2005 » Tech Tips » The Advent of Mozilla Firefox
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The Advent of Mozilla Firefox


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By JASON BAILEY
Sun Advocate/Progress Webmaster


In 1995, the Netscape Communications Corporation was on top of the world. Its flagship product, a computer program called Netscape Navigator, held well over eighty percent of the Internet browser market and was used by millions of people across the world. Netscape Navigator was the undisputed King of all Browsers.

However, when the Microsoft Corporation released version 4 of their competing browser, Internet Explorer in 1996, Netscape's popularity began to quickly decline. By 1998, shortly after the release of Microsoft Internet Explorer 5, Netscape had lost the majority of its browser market share to Microsoft.

After several unsuccessful attempts to revive the once venerable browser, Netscape decided to start over and build a completely new browser they dubbed Mozilla (the name was based on Mosaic, a pre-cursor to Netscape Navigator developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and the vehement reptile GodZilla).

A year later, the once strong Netscape Corporation found itself in a severe financial crunch, and was struggling to stay afloat. In 1999, AOL purchased the Netscape Corporation.

Not long after the acquisition was complete, AOL (now AOL Time Warner) decided to use the Mozilla browser as a development model, where the offspring of the project was to be used in the creation of the next Netscape browser. With the decision to skip the fifth version number (for marketing reasons), the first fruits of the Mozilla project (a pre-release) were publicly released in late 2000 as Netscape version 6 (which included a number of special additions, like AOL's instant messaging client).

To AOL Time Warner's dismay, the new Netscape browser was not widely accepted by the Internet community. Subsequent versions, although greatly improved, produced similar results. Many criticized the browser, saying it was largely unstable, had performance issues, and was visually unappealing. Ironically, the so-called development version of the browser, Mozilla, was far more popular than the Netscape-branded version.

During the middle of 2002, a powerful and highly capable Mozilla 1.0 was released, signifying a major shift in Mozilla's quality and direction, while the Netscape browser's popularity continued to plummet.

In mid-2003, AOL Time Warner let go of the Mozilla browser project and cut all ties of ownership by making it a completely independent, non-profit organization called the "Mozilla Foundation" which would finance and officiate future development of the the Mozilla project.

With the outreach of corporate influence eliminated, the newly formed Mozilla Foundation could now focus, without distraction, on the cross-platform Mozilla suite, which included an Internet browser, an email reader/client, and IRC client and a few other Internet-related applications.

By late 2004, Mozilla version 1.7 (considered a major milestone for the foundation) was released. Popularity for the freely-available browser/email client was at an all time high.

At the same time the suite was in development, other Mozilla developers were working on standalone browser and email programs that were based on the existing Mozilla software. Both were to contain additional features not found in the original Mozilla suite.

The browser, originally named Phoenix and later dubbed Mozilla Firebird, now has the name of Mozilla Firefox. Mozilla Thunderbird, the email program, is intended to be a companion to Mozilla Firefox.

The Mozilla Firefox browser sports a clean, customizable interface and includes a built-in pop-up blocker, search bar, Live Bookmarks (via RSS) and tabbed browsing capabilities. In addition to a highly theme-able interface, Mozilla Firefox contains an extension system that allows users to easily add additional features to the browser.

Version 1.0 of the Mozilla Firefox browser was released in early November of 2004, and according to the Spread Firefox website (www.spreadfirefox.com), has been downloaded more than 23 million times since November 9th, 2004 by people all over the world .

Mozilla Firefox is full of many impressive features. The following is a list of the browser's best features:

• Tabbed browsing allows you to view multiple websites at once, all in one browser window. Links can be easily opened in new tabs or windows by right clicking on the link or by holding the control key down while the link is clicked. This is probably the most revered feature of Firefox.

• The built-in pop-up blocker keeps annoying pop-ups from interfering with your Internet experience. If needed, specific sites can be added to an exception list, which overrides the pop-up blocker.

• The Live Bookmarks feature allows RSS news and blog headlines to appear in your bookmarks toolbar or bookmarks menu. This means that the latest news headlines will always be available from inside the bookmarks menu.

• The search feature brings the power of your favorite search engine to the front of your browser. Type your query into the search bar, hit enter, and a web page with results will appear. Google is the default search engine, but others can be used.

• The built-in download manager makes downloading files from the Internet a whole lot easier by grouping past and current downloads into one box that can be quickly opened from the main toolbar. Downloads can be easily paused, cancelled or removed at any time.

• The added security features in Firefox virtually eliminate any worry about browser-based viruses, spyware or other forms of mal-ware.

• Firefox is fast and renders pages without delay.

• Firefox can import all of your bookmarks, passwords and most other settings from Internet Explorer to make the transition as smooth as possible.

All of the Mozilla software are a breed of software called open-source, which means it is freely available for residential or business use, and can even be distributed. The only requirement is that profit cannot be made off of the distribution of the software.

One excellent ideal about all of the Mozilla software is that it is available for Windows (98 thru XP), Linux and even Mac OS-X. The Windows version is a small 4.7 megabyte download, which is small enough even for dial-up users.

Mozilla Firefox, its companion, Mozilla Thunderbird, and the Mozilla suite can all be downloaded free of charge from http://www.mozilla.org/.

Have comments or suggestions for a weekly Tech Tips article? Send an email to webmaster@ecprogress.com.


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