Mozilla Firefox is the new, lightweight Mozilla web browser. It was originally known as the Phoenix browser, but trademark issues prevented it from continuing under that name; Phoenix Technologies produces a firmware-based web browser. The name was first changed to Mozilla Firebird and then to Firefox after confusion with the Firebird SQL database. Unlike other lightweight Mozilla-based browsers, such as Galeon and Chimera, which are platform-specific and are based off native widgets, Firefox is designed with the same cross-platform goals as the original Mozilla SeaMonkey suite. It is based off the same XUL technology as Mozilla SeaMonkey, but it builds a new, streamlined toolkit with it to replace the original XPFE code, which has been proven to be overcomplicated and overgeneralised.
Development on Phoenix, as it was then called, began in the fall of 2002. Initial development proceeded rapidly The first three milestones came out in less than a month, and the next two took little more time. By this point, in early 2003, Phoenix already strongly resembled its final form, with all the basic groundwork completed. The frequency of releases slowed through 2003 and 2004, cleaning up the interface and fixing numerous bugs. The first full release, Firefox 1.0, was released on November 9, 2004, preceded by a number of release candidates, and heralded by a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.
Despite being less than half of the size of Mozilla SeaMonkey, Firefox is quite featureful. Tab browsing is included by default, as is pop-up blocking and image blocking. The toolbars are fully customisable from the browser UI, unlike Mozilla which requires XUL hacking to achieve the same thing. Form autocompletion and password retention are integrated, in a much more lightweight form than Mozilla's Password Manager. The Mozilla sidebar has been streamlined, with sidebars available for bookmarks and history. The sidebar is capable of drag and drop. There is also a new, streamlined download manager to replace the Mozilla Download Manager. The Preferences dialog has been greatly simplified, covering only the truly essential options, and the URL about:config provides an interface to the more esoteric tunables. Firefox can subscribe to RSS feeds, which appear as dynamic bookmark folders. Finally, a search box has been added to the toolbar beside the URL box, which can be configured to work with your choice of search engine.
One of the main reasons for Mozilla Firefox's small size is its extension mechanism. Unlike the main Mozilla suite, Firefox has comprehensive support for plugins, or 'extensions', that extend the UI and capabililties of the browser. Recent versions include an 'Extension Manager' that encapsulates installation and configuration of extensions in a single tool. The Extension Manager also supports automatic update of extensions. Some examples of available extensions are the Adblock extension that removes ads from web pages based on specified URL patterns, the Linkification extension that changes text URLs to links, and the aformentioned mouse gestures extension. The Linkification and Jump Link extensions come in especially useful on E2 where outside links must be presented as text or a pipelink. A list of available extensions can be found at http://update.mozilla.org/ .
There was considerable controversy about the name of this project. As mentioned above, the original name, Phoenix, fell afoul of trademark law. After a long period of deliberation and checks by AOL's legal department, Firebird was announced as the new name of the Phoenix browser. This invited considerable vitriol and flamage from the developers of the Firebird SQL database software (http://firebird.sourceforge.net) who claimed that mozilla.org was attempting to steal the Firebird name. After a lengthy flamewar, mozilla.org released a document that 'clarified' their position on naming. Two parts of this document dealt with the name conflict. The first was a call for the browser to always be referred to as 'Mozilla Firebird' and not as 'Firebird'. The second was a statement that 'Firebird' was only an interim codename to be used before the main Mozilla product was switched from SeaMonkey. After the transition, it was officially to be called 'Mozilla Browser'. Finally, eight months later, the browser was renamed again to 'Mozilla Firefox'. This time, the developers ensured that there would not be another program with a confusingly similar name.
In general, Mozilla Firefox appears to be a promising successor to the current Mozilla application suite, and a good example of the advantages of Free Software development. Firefox is the core of the revised Mozilla roadmap, which originally called for SeaMonkey to be abandoned after the Mozilla 1.4 release in May 2003. The components of the application suite will either be separated into their own applications or made into extensions for Firefox. The process is in full swing with full-featured betas of Mozilla Thunderbird, a standalone version of the mail/news component of the Mozilla application suite, as well as prereleases of Nvu, a standalone Composer, and standalone Calendar (called Mozilla Sunbird). Despite this, it appears that there is considerable will to continue with both SeaMonkey and the new standalone applications for the foreseeable future.
The current version of Mozilla Firefox is 1.0.6, and it can be found at http://www.mozilla.org/projects/firefox/ . Recent versions of Firefox include an automatic update feature that can also be used to get the latest version.
This writeup is copyright 2003-2004 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ .