Ten years ago, Netscape announced it would release to the public the code of its flag ship product, Netscape Communicator 5, making it an open source product. The action came at a time when Netscape was still the dominant web browser: 65 million users and 90% market share in the educational segment according to Netscape’s own accounts. But Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was grabbing share at a furious pace thanks to it being free (at a time Netscape was about$30) and specially the fact that it came bundled with Windows 95 and upcoming Windows 98 (released on June 1998).
With a sliding market share, Netscape decided to focus on its enterprise oriented products and gave away the browser but most importantly allow volunteers to work on the product. Mozilla was nothing but Netscape’s user agent (the name a browser uses to contact the web server), a reminder of the first Netscape code name.
Over time, Mozilla would become the name of the open source project, AOL would buy Netscape and Internet Explorer would get up to 90%+ of market share leading to the worst period in web browsers’ history where innovation was a niche for Opera and IE remixes users.
In 2002, Mozilla would finally release its first public version with its crazy mantra: we are platform builders, we are for developers, we leave products for others.
Entered Phoenix, which took Mozilla, the application suite, and made a consumer product out of it. At about the same time, AOL spun off the Mozilla Foundation with a $2 million check. Phoenix, then Firefox, would become an instant hit in 2004 proving the user oriented approach to be the most effective way for Mozilla to achieve its goals.
It’s been ten years of hard times and good times, frustration and satisfaction. But in all, Mozilla existence and success is something we can all, as connected citizens, celebrate: having options when it comes to web browsing because it leads to standardization and innovation, no matter it comes from Opera, Safari, Mozilla or Microsoft.
Original Netscape press release from January 2008.