Five years ago a small-ish group of exhausted, wound-up but excited people began the final preparations for the launch of the Mozilla Firefox web browser. We gathered in many places; with a core of us in Mozilla’s Mountain View office. This was a small, funky room hidden away in the far corner of an office complex, leased to us by friends of the Mozilla project. Our website folks gathered 4000 miles away. Thousands of people joined us virtually. We knew this because we could see the number of pings to the download site going wild in the hours before the release, as people kept checking.
We knew we had something big in the works — bigger at least than anyone had expected from Mozilla in a long time. We knew we were coming out of the dark days of “failure” of the Mozilla project. We knew this because some 3 million people were already using the 0.9 version of Firefox, and the number of people paying attention to us in the 6 months before the release had been skyrocketing. We knew we were coming out of dark into a place with light. We had no idea just how bright it would be. Here’s a detailed description of the events of Nov. 9 2004, which I wrote shortly afterward.
I can still feel the knotted, sick-to-my-stomach feeling that was a constant part of life in the weeks leading up to the Firefox 1.0 launch. Today, Nov. 9 was no different. Most things were done, but critical pieces still remained. My personal last minute items were finishing our discussions with Yahoo and Google, which were on track but nerve-wracking in the extreme nevertheless.
The general stress went beyond the specific tasks, and beyond getting a product out the door. The period leading up to Firefox 1.0 was a time in which we had redefined ourselves, becoming a true consumer-facing organization for the first time. This was a big change. It was absolutely necessary, it was hard, and it was immensely stressful.
Today the 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 keeping the Internet open, participatory, and innovation still surprises people, but it’s not longer seen as naive and impossible.
Our core approach has not changed though. Now, as then, each individual person remains critical. Each person who contributes to Mozilla, each person who demands that Mozilla represent our hopes for the Internet, each person who helps others find the benefits of Firefox and understand the goals of Mozilla — each one of us is what makes the Mozilla mission successful.
Five years is a great marker. And equally important, the future calls. There is great potential for making Firefox and the Internet as a whole even better at empowering people. There are also many threats to the openness of the Internet.
Mozilla has a unique voice. We have a unique opportunity to build an Internet where the people using it — us — are safe, secure, in control of our experience, and excited by new possibilities.
That’s cause for celebration indeed.