Firefox @10: How Mozilla Succeeded and Why it has now Failed

From the ‘Crushing Dreams’ files:

It was on November 9 2004 that Mozilla officially released Firefox 1.0. It was a joyous occasion and Mozillafirefox even took out a full page ad in the New York Times to celebrate the event.

I remember that day well and was among the many that wrote about the Firefox 1.0. The promise of Firefox 1.0 was to disrupt the browser status quo and to erode the hegemony of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Empire.

Firefox 1.0 was not an entirely new browser, though Mozilla tried to frame it as such. Firefox was the offspring of the Mozilla Suite, which included email, calendar and browser functions. While the Firefox browser achieved a certain measure of success, Mozilla’s spinoff calendar effort, known at one time as Sunbird, never really got going. Mozilla’s Thunderbird email effort also has never achieved the same success as Firefox, though Mozilla at one point even set up the Mozilla Mail organization to see it forward. Mozilla Mail ultimately failed.

Firefox, like the Mozilla Suite it was born from, had its legacy basis in the Netscape browser that in the mid-90’s dominated the web. In some of the early conversations I had with Mozilla people, an aspirational goal of Firefox was to return to that former glory.

10 years ago there was no real browser choice, IE dominated (except on Linux). Firefox changed that for the better. In 2008, four years after the Firefox 1.0 release, I was still very enthusiastic about the positive change that Firefox brought the web. Within four years of Firefox 1.0, Microsoft started to take the web seriously, Apple decided that Safari could be a strategic asset and Google realized that Firefox wasn’t all that it could or should be and launched the Chrome browser. Perhaps more importantly, in the post Firefox 1.0 era, a conversation about the web was re-started, the HTML 5 effort began and the web we all know today is the result.

Firefox today, 10 years later is not the same massive success it was early on. Chrome is vastly more popular (and by some measures, faster and more feature-rich too). Safari provides a superior experience on Apple platforms than Mozilla ever has and Microsoft has invested in IE innovation (though security is still a large concern).

After Firefox 4, Mozilla started a rapid release train, providing new updates every six to 10 weeks, in a bid to keep pace with Chrome. Mozilla has also increasingly been investing in its FirefoxOS effort (which they hardly ever will talk to me about) and mobile platforms. Mozilla also had its worst crisis of leadership earlier this year with the departure of Mozilla original – Brendan Eich.

10 years ago, the only browser I would ever touch was Firefox, that’s not true today. The web is more fragmented today then ever before, with certain sites only working well in certain browsers – so I have to run three browsers — just to get my job done. That’s not Firefox’s fault, but it is a lost and unfilled promise from what I heard 10 years ago.

It is clear today that Firefox will never achieve the same success that Netscape or even IE once held. Google has outmaneuvered Mozilla, the lack of real desktop innovation focus has been lost on Firefox and quite simply the magic isn’t all there, like it was in 2004.

That said, in the modern world, even though I personally no longer have the same confidence in Mozilla I once did, it remains the only truly open browser vendor on the planet.

Even though I can’t get connected via Mozilla’s public relations channels to Mozilla people, like I once did, the community is as strong as it ever was. Mozilla’s bugzilla tracking system, mailing lists and IRC channels remain the beacon of community involvement and engagement. No other vendor provides access and transparency like Mozilla.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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