In February 1998, Netscape released most of the code base for its popular Communicator suite (including the Navigator browser) under an open source license. To support Mozilla's collaborative development, Netscape also created the Mozilla organization and mozilla.org website. Although the original Communicator code was abandoned shortly thereafter, the Mozilla organization eventually succeeded in producing a full-featured Internet suite that surpassed Communicator in both features and stability.
The Netscape Communicator open source release, which came at the height of America's late-1990s economic boom, was greeted by the Internet community with a mixture of acclaim and skepticism. In some circles, Netscape's source release was seen as both a victory for the free software movement and an opportunity for Netscape to tap the power of open source development. This view was particularly popular among users of Linux and other free software. Other observers—including many in the non-open-source business community—interpreted the move as Netscape's surrender in the face of the growing ascendancy of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.
Regardless of the public's opinion, development with the Communicator code base proved harder than initially hoped:
Ultimately, the Mozilla core developers concluded that the old code could not be salvaged. They decided to scrap the whole code base and rewrite it from the ground up, which caused one of the lead Netscape developers, Jamie Zawinski to resign. The resulting plan included, among other things, the creation of a whole new cross-platform user interface library and a new HTML rendering engine.
Few observers foresaw the result. The rapid completion of the Gecko HTML layout engine led many to believe that a complete browser could not be far behind. However, producing even a fully functional web browser required much more than a rendering engine; and the Mozilla developers soon envisioned a project more ambitious than a simple web browser. The new Mozilla would be a platform for Internet applications, with a fully programmable user interface and a modular architecture. This Mozilla would function equally well as a host for email clients, instant messaging clients, Usenet news readers, or any number of other applications.
Due to the effort required for this massive rewrite, the project fell far behind its original projected deadlines. In the years that followed, skepticism about Mozilla grew widespread, and some doubted that a finished Mozilla browser would ever see the light of day. However, the project persisted, continuing uninterrupted through both the purchase of Netscape by AOL and the end of the dot-com boom.
By 2002, the Mozilla project had produced a serviceable, standards-based web browser that worked on multiple operating systems, including Linux, Mac OS, Solaris, and Microsoft Windows. The Mozilla 1.0 release was even praised for introducing new features that Internet Explorer lacked, including better support for user privacy preferences and some interface improvements. Additionally, the Mozilla browser became a de facto reference implementation for various World Wide Web Consortium standards, due to its strong support for those standards.
A new development roadmap has been released which marks a change in the future plans for Mozilla. Instead of the current integrated "cross-platform front end" (XPFE) application, Mozilla will become a suite of smaller applications sharing common back-end technology such as the XUL user-interface framework and the Gecko rendering engine. They will continue to work seamlessly with one another, as before, but will be able to integrate better with third-party applications. By cutting the functionality of the suite into pieces, this is intended to improve the project in several ways, by
This is not a long-term goal: the Firebird (formerly Phoenix) browser is already in an advanced state of development, and the Thunderbird (formerly Minotaur) mail client is in the early stages of being factored out from XPFE.
The Mozilla software architecture was, of necessity, fairly modular. As a result, Mozilla development generated several components that have been reused in other contexts. The most prominent of these is the Gecko layout engine, which has been used in other browsers (see Spin-off browsers below).
Also, the task of Mozilla development itself spurred the creation of tools for geographically distributed, cross-platform software development. Some of these tools were widely adopted by the larger open source community, including the following:
One unique aspect of Mozilla is that the entire user interface, including menus and dialog boxes, is rendered by the Gecko layout engine, rather than by the host operating system's GUI library. This architecture has been controversial. Its defenders cite its flexibility and the fact that it can present a standard GUI across different platforms. Its critics argue that this architecture adversely impacts performance, and that it is a widely-accepted convention of application design to use the native GUI elements of the operating system interface. A number of browsers exist that use the rendering engine only to display the HTML page (see below).
The Mozilla project takes its name from the cartoon lizard Mozilla, who served as Netscape's mascot in the company's early days. The name is a portmanteau of "Mosaic" (the Netscape browser's predecessor) and "Godzilla" (a movie monster that terrorized Tokyo and other locales). One can surmise that the employees of Netscape hoped to unseat Mosaic as the web's most popular browser. They succeeded---albeit briefly, yielding the position to Internet Explorer soon after. For more on the Mozilla mascot, see the external link for "The Mozilla Museum" (below).
When given the URL about:mozilla, the various versions of the Netscape browser would display a message, in white text on a lurid red background, in the browser window. Version 4 displayed the following prophecy:
"Their tags shall blink" refers to the controversial <blink> HTML tag introduced in an earlier Netscape version. This proprietary HTML extension, which made text blink on and off, was widely derided as annoying, distracting, and ugly. Soon after its introduction, the blink tag joined hideously garish backgrounds and animated GIFs as metonymy for badly designed web pages.
Later Netscape browser versions (as well as the Mozilla browser itself), which were actually based on the Mozilla code, displayed the following:
This text probably referred to Netscape's hope that, by opening the Mozilla source, they could attract a "legion" of developers who would help improve the software. Some suggested that "Mammon" referred obliquely to Microsoft, which seemed plausible given that Microsoft's Internet Explorer was Mozilla's chief competition.
Early versions of Mozilla were slow and buggy. Mozilla became about as stable as Netscape 4.7x only from 0.9.2 or 0.9.3 builds onwards. From 0.9.5 (October 12, 2001) onwards the releases have been fast and reliable, largely due to the implementation of formal code review techniques by the Mozilla project managers.
|Version||Release date||Most important changes|
|Milestone 1||?||Conversion to the "raptor" codebase; about 100 bugfixes|
|Milestone 2||January 31, 1999||Platform parity (Windows / Linux / MacOS); about 85 bugfixes|
|Milestone 3||March 19, 1999|
|Milestone 4||April 15, 1999|
|Milestone 5||May 5, 1999|
|Milestone 6||May 29, 1999|
|Milestone 7||June 22, 1999|
|Milestone 8||July 16, 1999|
|Milestone 9||August 26, 1999|
|Milestone 10||October 8, 1999|
|Milestone 11||November 16, 1999|
|Milestone 12||December 21, 1999|
|Milestone 13||January 26, 2000|
|Milestone 14||March 1, 2000|
|Milestone 15||April 18, 2000|
|Milestone 16||June 13, 2000||Autocomplete, Chatzilla, HTTP/1.1 support, skin support, full session history support|
|Milestone 17||August 7, 2000||Classic theme, alpha transparency, MNG support, plugin support on Linux|
|Milestone 18||October 12, 2000||Java support on Linux, Modern theme|
|Mozilla 0.6||December 6, 2000||source-only release of the base for Netscape 6.0|
|Mozilla 0.7||January 9, 2001||Personal security manager; SSL and mousewheel support on MacOS; forced reloads from server|
|Mozilla 0.8||February 14, 2001||Find and replace; first introduction of pop-up blocking; improved bookmark manager|
|Mozilla 0.9||May 7, 2001||Automatic proxy configuration; personal security manager 2.0; performance improvements|
|Mozilla 0.9.1||June 7, 2001||34 crasher bugs fixed; overhauled Modern theme; XSLT support; bidi support for Hebrew and Arabic|
|Mozilla 0.9.2||June 28, 2001||25 crasher bugs fixed; Quick Launch (preloading to reduce startup times) implemented on Windows|
|Mozilla 0.9.3||August 2, 2001||More stability work (Mozilla is now considered more stable than Netscape 4.78)|
|Mozilla 0.9.2.1||August 8, 2001||source-only release of the base for Netscape 6.1|
|Mozilla 0.9.4||September 14, 2001||Quick Launch enabled by default; Arabic language support on Linux|
|Mozilla 0.9.5||October 12, 2001||Tabbed Browsing; SOCKS support for almost all protocols; ECMAScript debugger Venkman (http://www.mozilla.org/projects/venkman/venkman-walkthrough)|
|Mozilla 0.9.6||November 20, 2001||Page icons displayed in toolbar (except for favicons); print preview; BMP and ICO support on all platforms|
|Mozilla 0.9.4.1||October 31, 2001||source-only release of the base for Netscape 6.2|
|Mozilla 0.9.7||December 21, 2001||Favicon support.|
|Mozilla 0.9.8||February 4, 2002||Hebrew support on Solaris; Hebrew and Arabic support on MacOS; Document Object Model inspector|
|Mozilla 0.9.9||March 11, 2002||a new mail notification sign that appears in the Windows System tray.|
|Mozilla 1.0 RC1||April 18, 2002||Viewing source of cgi generated pages works, reorganized menus, new Download Manager|
|Mozilla 1.0 RC2||May 10, 2002|
|Mozilla 1.0 RC3||May 23, 2002||139 bug fixes since RC2.|
|Mozilla 1.0||June 5, 2002||first 'official' release|
|Mozilla 1.1||August 26, 2002||performance, stability, compatibility and standards conformance improved|
|Mozilla 1.0.1||September 10, 2002||over 650 bugfixes to 1.0.|
|Mozilla 1.2||November 26, 2002||type ahead find, improved keyboard access, link prefetching|
|Mozilla 1.2.1||December 2, 2002||released to correct a DHTML bug found in Mozilla 1.2|
|Mozilla 1.0.2||January 7, 2003||stability and security improvements and fixes for standards support|
|Mozilla 1.3||March 13, 2003||basic junk mail classification capabilities and image auto sizing|
|Mozilla 1.3.1||May 7, 2003||released to restore XPI functionality on Mac OS X|
|Mozilla 1.4b||May 7, 2003|
|Mozilla 1.4 RC1||May 29, 2003||more junk mail controls, smooth scrolling, bookmarks overhaul, streamlined pop-up blocking|
|Mozilla 1.4 RC2||June 17, 2003||Lots of bug fixes.|
|Mozilla 1.4 RC3||June 24, 2003||More bug fixes.|
|Mozilla 1.4||June 30, 2003||Official 1.4 release.|
Early reviews of Mozilla 1.0 were favorable, describing Mozilla as fast and stable, and praising new features such as tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking.
One advanced setting which is highly beneficial to users of Mozilla is the ability to use the pipelining feature of HTTP 1.1, which results in much faster download times for sites with multiple images.
Browsers that use the Gecko layout engine for the entire user interface:
Browsers that just use the Gecko layout engine for webpage display only: