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Spreading The Gospel of Firefox

Three days after the preview release of Firefox 1.0 and more than 720,000 downloads later, the Mozilla Foundation is moving to a new phase in its online campaign to build more market share.

Firefox, which traces its roots to the once-dominant Netscape Web browser, has been enjoying a period of popularity in recent times at the expense of Microsoft's IE, which has been plagued in recent months by security vulnerabilities.

Version 1.0 preview adds some new features to Firefox .9, which was released back in June. Some of the new features include: live bookmarks, which lets users add an RSS feed to their bookmarks; security improvements, notably an anti-spoofing feature that highlights the Web site address and name when visiting a secure site; and a plug-in installer to make way for a number of upcoming plug-ins to the Firefox browser.

Just as notable as the updated Firefox release was the public launch of a marketing campaign; like a "Get out the Vote" campaign in the real world, Spreadfirefox.com is a grass-roots campaign being conducted online to get Web bloggers and individuals to convince people to switch from IE.

The first paragraph on the Spreadfirefox.com blog states its case:

"There's a meme infecting the Internet: the browser wars are back. And you are our vanguard in the new firefight."

The enthusiasm of its fans seems to be having an effect on Firefox's adoption, and has been for some time. Right about the time Microsoft began to experience recurring security vulnerabilities in its browser, the statistics on Web browser usage began to turn the corner towards Firefox, though Microsoft still clearly holds the lead.

According to W3schools.com, Mozilla browser usage has jumped from 11 percent in May to 16.6 percent in September. Microsoft, on the other hand, has seen its market share of IE dwindle in the same timeframe, from 84 percent to 78.4 percent.

In three days, more than 4,700 people have answered the call to arms and the Mozilla Foundation is taking advantage of its surging popularity to get volunteers in on its marketing efforts. Coming soon to a trade show or college near you will be groups of volunteer Firefox fans, while back online other groups will be copyediting marketing copy, speaking to the press on recent news items and pitching story ideas as well as designing logos and working on the Firefox Web site.

If Mozilla's devotees are anything like Kevin Karpenske, they might be a force to be reckoned with. Karpenske was the owner of the Firefox.com domain, where he maintained his personal Web blog, until he donated it to the Mozilla Foundation. As the owner he could have easily made some money selling the name of a popular brand, though he said making money on the domain wasn't a motivation.

"I did get a few offers about the domain, but I never replied to them; I couldn't stand the idea of my 'home' of six years being replaced by a traffic-leeching Web portal or something of the sort," Karpenske's stated in an e-mail interview. "It came down to two things: I wanted the domain to go to Mozilla, and I didn't expect them to pay for it."