5 years of Firefox

5 Years of Firefox Cake at the Firefox Developer Day in Tokyo, Japan

5 Years of Firefox Cake at the Firefox Developer day in Tokyo, Japan

Firefox is five years old. We thought that we would celebrate that by talking about how the web has changed over the last five years and Firefox’s role in those changes.

Where We’re At

2009 has been an interesting year. We’re at a crossroads for the Internet. In the next 12 months or so we’re likely to see regulation of the Internet in the United States – possibly for good, possibly for bad. We’ve seen increased interest in the browser space with the entrace of Google with their minimalist Chrome browser. Mozilla put a vastly improved rendering engine into the hands of hundreds of millions of users with the release of Firefox 3.5. The EU is working with Microsoft to implement a ballot to make users aware of browser choice. No one could possibly say that things are boring right now. And this has only been over the last year.

But what has changed over the last five years? What are the main themes? We’ve picked a few to talk about and we hope that it helps put things into perspective for the next five.

The Rise of the Modern Browser

One thing that’s become obvious over the last five years is the wide gap that’s emerging between the field of modern browsers – Firefox, Safari, Opera and Chrome – with the world’s most popular browser – IE. The modern browser is built for the future of web applications – super fast JavaScript, modern CSS, HTML5, support for the various web-apps standards, downloadable font support, offline application support, raw graphics through canvas and WebGL, native video, advanced XHR capabilities mixed with new security tools and network capabilities.

Over the last five years we’ve been setting ourselves up for the next five. The web is moving faster, not slower, and modern browsers are set to handle it.

In this sense we’ve done our jobs at Mozilla. We were first on the scene with fast JavaScript, CORS, mixing HTML and SVG, WebGL is based on Canvas3D work we pioneered, we’re scripting hardware with geolocation and orientation. We’re helping to standardize and implement some new CSS capabilities that are being developed in other browsers, we’re leading the web towards a modern font system and giving web authors and users more security tools. Our job is to help keep the web rich and moving forward – this is a huge part of our public benefit mission. This is the opportunity that Firefox’s five years have offered us.

The browsers that are on the horizon aren’t just incremental changes – they represent the pieces to build the next generation web – rich with standards-based graphics, new JavaScript libraries and full blown applications.

Standards Won

Firefox’s growth on the web has had another important effect – bringing standards to the forefront of development. Very early in the Mozilla project almost half of the web’s HTML pages started using DOCTYPE in order to opt-in to standards mode for many web browsers. Developers signaled that they wanted to use a standards-based method for development.

That’s important. It set up the current frame for development on the web that we have today. It allowed Apple to take KHTML and turn it into Safari which then allowed Chrome to pick up that work and enter the market and render a standards-based web. Now we don’t have just one or two browsers, but many, and a lot of that has to do with the way that early web developers approached development.

Standards matter, and they should continue to matter. When they do those individual human beings we like to call users benefit with greater choice and fast innovation.

Customizing Your Experience

Led by Firefox’s add-ons system there’s been an explosion in the number of people who are customizing their experiences – both in browsers and on the web. Anywhere from one third to one half of Firefox users have some kind of add-on installed.

The web is unique, and was built to be hacked. No other widely-deployed system in the world delivers itself as source code like the web does. And this transparency has made it possible for the distributed innovation that we’re seeing in Firefox and on the web. People patching new UI into their favorite web sites, mashing up data from multiple sources or radically changing the feel of the browser itself – this is a source for inspiration for browser vendors and web site operators alike. For the first time individual people have the ability to take an active part in the future of their computing experience.

It’s also worth noting that Gecko and Firefox are unique in this space. The highly modular nature of Gecko mixed with the fact that Firefox itself is written in HTML and XUL (another UI-focused markup language) means that it’s the only browser that’s hackable like the web is. Every other browser is built as a monolithic desktop application from the last millennium. This natural advantage not only means that Firefox has the widest array of add-ons and developers, but is also a source of inspiration for most of the rest of the market.

RSS and Data

In the last five years one of the big changes we’ve seen is web sites offering up data and feeds. Feeds in particular have reached the point where even non-technical people know what they are and how to use them. The ubiquitous RSS icon, which was originally created for the Firefox browser and given away by Mozilla, now exists on millions of web sites offering users the ability to get updates on their terms.

But we’ve gone far beyond just simple feeds. Advanced APIs are now appearing for web sites so you can integrate native applications, build a Firefox extension or be able to pull your data out of a web site.

And we’ve also moved from the promise of XML to the reality of JSON as the data format of choice.


It’s important to remember that Youtube didn’t exist when Firefox was launched. At that time your only options were native QuickTime, Windows Media or Real Player. (Anyone remember Real Player?)

In the last few years we’ve seen Youtube become one of the largest sites of the Internet, the launch of Hulu, and sites like Netflix offering premium on-demand video right over the Internet to web browsers and devices alike. We’ve also seen millions of people create their own videos and publish them to the web.

We’ve also seen the launch of open video and native video support in browsers to bring the creativity and hackability of the web to currently closed video platforms.

Users as Creators

The rise of the web is a story of anyone being able to create a web site. But that’s still a largely technical exercise, even with tools. What we have seen, thanks to tools like WordPress and blogger, is the growth of weblogs, feeds and data which make it possible for anyone with a web browser to become a publisher or journalist.

And it has moved well beyond just text. People with low-cost tools are making movies and posting them. Remix culture is alive and well, creating comentary and new and exciting creations – all in the hands of pretty normal people.


The iPhone taught us that you could build a decent browser for mobile phones and that data was important. Phones, really just in the last five years or so, have shown us that access to data plans that look like what you can get to your house can unleash developer and user creativity.

In the last five years at Mozilla we’ve also made the commitment to build a browser for mobile devices. We’re still in an early pre-1.0 beta stage, but that browser is already getting excellent reviews.

So what about the next five years?

Mozilla has been at the heart of many of the issues of the Internet over the last five years. We’ve vastly improved the browsing experience for hundreds of millions of people around the world. We’ve managed to keep Microsoft honest and forced them to release newer versions of their browsers. Firefox’s presence was a large factor in Apple being able to ship a browser to its user base as the Mac came back to the market. We’ve made it possible for third party browser vendors like Google to enter the market. We’ve proven that people care about improving their experiences on the web. We’ve given over 330 million people the taste of what it’s like to use an open source product. And we’ve overseen the technical growth of the web through direct action and standardization.

It’s hard to beat that, but we’re going to try. We’ll continue to make competitive browser releases and improve people’s experiences on the web. We’ll continue to innovate on behalf of developers and bring those improvements to the standards space. And we’ll continue to grow our amazing global community of users, developers and activists.

Over the next five years everyone can expect that the browser should take part in a few new areas – to act as the user agent it should be. Issues around data, privacy and identity loom large. You will see the values of Mozilla’s public benefit mission reflected in our product choices in these areas to make users safer and help them understand what it means to share data with web sites.

Expect to see big changes in the video space. HTML5-based video and open video codecs are starting to appear on the web as web developers make individual choices to support a standards-based, royalty-free approach. Expect to see changes in the expectations around the licensing of codecs.

And over the next five years mobile will play an increasingly important role in our lives, and in the future of the web. The decisions of users, carriers, governments and the people who build phones will have far-reaching effects on this new extension to the Internet and how people will access information for decades to come.

Mozilla has a unique place on the Internet. Driven to help improve it as part of our mission expect us to express opinions on decisions that affect its future. We act both through direct action but also through indirect action – sometimes our effects are as important as our actions. We will continue to protect users and we’ll continue to do everything they can to make it possible for the next set of people to come along and build the next great web site.

It’s been a great five years. Let’s make it another five and keep the web moving forward for the benefit of everyone.


  1. Pandian

    Good Run Firefox.. Keep going and do miracles..

    November 8th, 2009 at 19:24

  2. Brian

    Happy Birthday Firefox! I’ve been using it since Version 1.5 and its awesome.

    As Pandian said, keep going and do miracles. Keep up the great work!

    November 8th, 2009 at 21:00

  3. […] Shared 5 years of Firefox. […]

    November 8th, 2009 at 21:02

  4. […] pic via […]

    November 8th, 2009 at 21:16

  5. makuchaku

    Well said and well written… just cannot imagine the web without Firefox :)
    Tons of luck to Mozilla team!


    November 8th, 2009 at 22:15

  6. Mark Brown

    The web owes a lot to this browser. You have used your powers for good and not evil – and the web has won.

    November 8th, 2009 at 22:19

  7. Comanici Paul

    Happy birthday FireFox and keep up the great work. See you at 10 years old :D

    November 8th, 2009 at 22:27

  8. Brian

    Oops sorry for double comment, but I’ve actually been using Firefox since Version 1.0.

    Thats a great looking cake. I want some. :D

    November 8th, 2009 at 22:56

  9. John

    This is an amazing post…thanks for summing it all up and putting it in such great perspective!

    November 8th, 2009 at 23:35

  10. Balakumar Muthu

    WOWWW :)…. really wonderful to see the amazing growth of Firefox. Still remember the great Firefox party we had 3 years back:


    November 8th, 2009 at 23:38

  11. Alexander

    Happy Birthday! With love, from Belarus =)

    November 8th, 2009 at 23:40

  12. […] 文章翻译自hacks.mozilla.org,纪念火狐诞生五周年,大家也可以去Spread Firefox上的纪念页面上看看,做得相当漂亮,:) […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 00:14

  13. […] From your desktop to your mobile device, Mozilla is committed to building an open and participatory Internet. We’ve come so far in the past five years and we’re incredibly excited about the next five. For a more comprehensive look at where we’ve been and where we’re headed, check out Chris Blizzard’s excellent post on hacks.mozilla.org. […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 01:56

  14. […] From your desktop to your mobile device, Mozilla is committed to building an open and participatory Internet. We’ve come so far in the past five years and we’re incredibly excited about the next five. For a more comprehensive look at where we’ve been and where we’re headed, check out Chris Blizzard’s excellent post on hacks.mozilla.org. […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 01:59

  15. mult

    You the best! ;)

    November 9th, 2009 at 02:17

  16. darkden

    Gratzzz! Good Luck!

    November 9th, 2009 at 02:20

  17. […] for the future, Christopher Blizzard over at hacks.mozilla.org has some idea about that; it can be summed up in three words: privacy, video, and mobile. From the […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 02:49

  18. Richard Le Poidevin

    Well done to everyone who has been part of making Firefox what it is.

    November 9th, 2009 at 02:55

  19. Tristan

    Great post, Chris, really! Happy to read stuff pretty similar to what I’m putting in my deck for tonight :-)

    November 9th, 2009 at 03:48

  20. […] on hacks.mozilla.org , Christopher Blizzard sees the browser focusing on privacy, video and mobile in the future (or […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 03:51

  21. […] 文章翻译自hacks.mozilla.org,纪念火狐诞生五周年,大家也可以去Spread Firefox上的纪念页面上看看,做得相当漂亮,:) 日本东京举行的火狐开发日聚会上的火狐五周岁蛋糕 […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 04:31

  22. […] Today is a very special day, for many reasons, but the one I wanted to bring up is Firefox turning five years old! […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 05:01

  23. […] Fast forward to 2004: Mozilla and Netscape were on the rocks and it looked like the browser wars had been won. IE was the victor. In order to combat bloat and “feature creep,” however, a ragtag team of coders led by Dave Hyatt and Blake Ross built something they called “Phoenix,” then “Firebird,” then, on November 9, 2004, Firefox 1.0 was born. This turned into the Mozilla suite – Firefox and Thunderbird – were born. […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 07:33

  24. Nicolas D

    Happy B-DAY Firefox, hope to see more and more

    November 9th, 2009 at 07:48

  25. Ido

    Thank you Firefox for making our web a better place.

    November 9th, 2009 at 07:52

  26. Can YILMAZ

    Happy birthday FF. I hope that “The Mighty Beast” will be in out lives for many many years.

    November 9th, 2009 at 08:06

  27. Tharaka Devinda

    Happy Birthday Foxy…!
    Yes, as your article states FF has shaped the web, and it has done it more than anything out there. In my view, FF was the next thing to hit after Navigator in the history of web.
    Have you guys ever wondered when coding, that you actually write history? I mean, think about it. You wrote the best browser out there and it goes to the books. Congratulations about that.!

    One last thing, Keep this article with you. Display it five years from today! We will see what we could achieve and what we could not! Five years is not a long time. Keep Rocking Foxy, we love you!

    November 9th, 2009 at 08:33

  28. Diego Veras

    Great job, Firefox. You do make our life as web developers easier.

    November 9th, 2009 at 10:21

  29. […] for the future, Christopher Blizzard over at hacks.mozilla.org has some idea about that; it can be summed up in three words: privacy, video, and mobile. From the […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 11:10

  30. […] world is different. Firefox has 25% world-wide market share, 330 million users, and a significant impact on the shape of the internet experience. The idea that a non-profit, public- benefit organization like Mozilla can have such an impact on […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 11:24

  31. oldbluekid

    Thank you developers!, you are trying to make this world a better place!
    Protect the users!

    November 9th, 2009 at 11:27

  32. Viking KARWUR

    Happy Birthday Firefox… Warm greetings from Jakarta, Indonesia…

    November 9th, 2009 at 11:55

  33. […] few years and Mozilla has been fighting against Firefox being memory intensive. But, Firefox is poised for more growth as it moves to mobile devices and the promise of HTML5. Firefox will no doubt begin to shape how […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 12:29

  34. […] this date in 2004, Firefox was released to an online world that was extremely different from the one we know today. There was no YouTube, no Twitter, no Facebook (at least not in its […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 13:01

  35. […] to distill what this awesome milestone means to me into a single post (Mitchell Baker and Chris Blizzard have some great thoughts).  I started working on a top 10 list, but last night as I started to see […]

    November 9th, 2009 at 15:16

  36. michal

    you good people are doing excellent work! many thanks!

    November 9th, 2009 at 15:23

  37. skierpage

    Belated *10-year* anniversary best wishes for the Mozilla M4 release on 1999-04-15. (Kickin’ it old school Y2K-style ;-) ).

    November 9th, 2009 at 16:28

  38. Israel Piña

    feliz Cumpleaños Firefox!!!!!
    desde México :D :D :D

    November 9th, 2009 at 17:31

  39. narayan

    Many Happy Returns… It’s been fantastic run. I have used firefox for pretty much whole of last 5 yrs and I am sure many more to come.

    November 9th, 2009 at 17:35

  40. jezza

    nice bit of looking back to see what’s ahead. fun – made me dig up this timeline http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/Timeline_of_web_browsers.svg – keep that orange line going strong!

    November 9th, 2009 at 18:44

  41. AngeiltX

    i no iba a ser para menos!… un gran navegador que como kernel tiene a una gran comunidad colaboradora y eso es lo que lo hace ser el mejor navegador… :)

    Saludos, abrazos y felicidades a todos los que hacen sin ninguna retribucion Firefox!

    November 9th, 2009 at 19:54

  42. WampaKing

    Congrats on 5 years. I still fondly remember installing Firefox (Firebird) 0.7 on my Blue & White PowerMac G3 in college. I loved that I could get the same browser experience in multiple platforms and I am glad that holds true still today. Great job everyone, but no slacking! IE is still the big dog (less big, but still big) so keep the innovation coming and go get ’em!

    November 9th, 2009 at 20:50

  43. Tomaz

    Congrats, firefox! Keep the awesome flowing! Thanks for saving us from the dark trecherous thing that was the web (and ie). I’ll join the crusade as soon as i have my coding skills up and running. Cheers!

    November 9th, 2009 at 22:01

  44. […] From your desktop to your mobile device, Mozilla is committed to building an open and participatory Internet. We’ve come so far in the past five years and we’re incredibly excited about the next five. For a more comprehensive look at where we’ve been and where we’re headed, check out Chris Blizzard’s excellent post on hacks.mozilla.org. […]

    November 10th, 2009 at 00:58

  45. Flo (french)

    Joyeux Anniversaire !!!
    Merci pour tout et bonne continuation !

    November 10th, 2009 at 01:38

  46. Kanu

    Hey Great Job Done Firefox people….CONGRATS!!!

    November 10th, 2009 at 01:38

  47. Tinh

    Happy Birthday to FireFox, I love you!11

    November 10th, 2009 at 01:39

  48. Originalme8(FireFox User)

    It wasn’t long after I got my first DSL line installed at my home, the same year that I discovered Linux (command line Slackware) which started my love for Open Source software, and I had just got my first LCD screen(lets just say it was a good year XD). I remember my neighbor bringing over a CD-ROM Disc and telling me I had to see what was on it. Before even thinking, I popped it in my, at the time, 5-year-old gutted Gateway tower and began installing something I had never heard of. I remember asking him what it was and his response was simply: “You are going to love this, trust me!”. He wasn’t kidding, I didn’t know it at the time, but this simple disc held the software that I would soon fall in love with. Contained on that ordinary and simple disc was the not-so-ordinary FireFox beta. At first, honestly, I wasn’t impressed, I laughed and told him, “Ok…looks a lot like Netscape to me, what’s the big deal?”. He told me to play with it for a while and give a chance, so I did. To this day I still don’t know where he got it, nor do I really care, but it opened my eyes. By the end of the week I had said goodbye forever to IE and Netscape (Anyone else remember the old Netscape?). FireFox quickly spread across the net. More and more people were tweaking it and releasing addons, and I downloaded every single one in the beginning. I couldn’t get enough and my poor little FireFox was soon overburdened with so many addons it would barely launch. It was then that I realized that I didn’t need everything and I started to pick-and-choose what I used. I still don’t think I have it perfect, but as more addons come out and I add and subtract as I go along it get’s closer every day.
    I have stuck by my little FireFox and with every new release I gain a little more respect and love for the little browser. FireFox hasn’t always been perfect, but I suffered through the bad times with it so I could reach the better times ahead. I remember the greatness of the 1.0 and 2.0 releases and the small fan groups I was with when they were officially release. There were 6 of us for the 1.0 all waiting for it to go live on the Mozilla site. I still have the disc I won from the Mozilla store that has the original 1.5.04 version of Firefox and Thunderbird(Looking back those were my favorite days of using the browser, when everything was still new and fresh). By the time 2.0 was released there were about 40 or so people gathered at a friends house for the official release, it wasn’t the smartest thing to do actually, took us forever to download it sharing one connection, but we waited “patiently” together for the bar to finish its slow movement across the screen. Big cheers went up when one finally finished.
    I had moved by the time 3.0 was released so this update I spent alone, it kind of fit 3.0’s release. FireFox 3.0 brought a lot of problems to the browser for me. On both my Mac and my Windows box it would crash often, especially when dealing with JavaScript. I couldn’t figure it out. After a few months I was tempted to try another browser, but I decided that I would stick with it and simply reverted back to an older version of FireFox and patiently waited.
    It didn’t take too long before FireFox was back on my desktop, and back in my Dock. Now my little browser is back where it belongs and it is stronger than ever. I was there near the begining and I will be there till the end, as long as it is around I will use and love FireFox! I will always be a fan and supporter!
    Forever a FireFox user!

    November 10th, 2009 at 01:45

  49. Bit32

    Happy birthday Firefox! :D

    November 10th, 2009 at 01:52

  50. Viktor

    Alles Gute zum Geburtstag! Auf weitere 5 erfolgreiche Jahre!

    Viele Grüße aus Deutschland

    November 10th, 2009 at 02:02

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