It has been twenty years since the Mozilla Organisation, a spin off from Netscape, launched the first public release of the now legendary browser Firefox. This version, Phoenix 0.1, and launched #OnThisDay, was to prove a prophetic name — given it was destined to arise like a phoenix from the ashes of Netscape which went defunct the following year in 2003.
The driver behind this project was not merely to create an escape pod of independence from Netscape or to provide an alternative to the crushing influence of Microsoft Internet Explorer in the ‘First Browser War‘. It was a project that was also aimed at resisting the software bloat that seems to plague all software development, and was prevalent in Mozilla Suite.
The First Browser War, for Star Wars fans, not only has something of a Clone Wars feel to it, but is apposite because of the imagery of an ‘Evil Empire’, in the shape of Microsoft, crushing all resistance. Much in the same way the Empire ostensibly crushed the Galactic Republic save for a band of intrepid rebels. Rebels who, in the First Browser War, are represented by Dave Hyatt, Joe Hewitt, and Blake Ross — the creators of Firefox.
However, Firefox was also unique in that it was an early player in the space of browser security. Functionality such as pop-up blocking, avoiding the potentially dangerous ActiveX component, and being hardened against vulnerability to spyware and malware installation, cemented its reputation among the security conscious as a better alternative to Internet Explorer.
My own journey, as is not uncommon among people of my age, weight, and early adopter inclinations, began with the public launch of Phoenix. Little did I know how consistently Firefox would be my window to the World Wide Web, nor how its security, and in time privacy focus, would shape my understanding of what it means to be online.
While Mozilla has seen many zeniths and nadirs over the last two decades — being at times pariah or saint depending on its current stance on the privacy and security topics de jure — its stability and framework remains rock solid and this is why it was chosen as the base software of the only truly secure browser, Tor. For those of us with a threat model that does not require anonymity along with security and privacy, Firefox is a stand out browser solution in a digital landscape that seeks to harvest our data and monetise our every online interaction.
Good night, and good luck.