06 February 2006

Mozilla Dot Party 2.0

For me, one of the most exciting chapters of Rebel Code to write was that called, rather enigmatically, "Mozilla Dot Party", which described the genesis of the open source browser Mozilla.

Thanks to the extensive historical records in the form of Usenet posts, I already had a pretty good idea where GNU/Linux came from, but the reasons behind the dramatic decision of Netscape - the archetypal Web 1.0 company - to release its crown jewels, the code for its browser Navigator, as open source, were as mysterious as they were fascinating (at least insofar as they went beyond blind despair). So the chance to talk with some of the key people like Eric Hahn and Frank Hecker, who made that happen, and to begin to put the Mozilla story together for the first time was truly a privilege.

But it was only the start of the story. My chapter finished in April 1999, at the point where another key actor in the story, Jamie Zawinski, had resigned from Netscape, despairing of ever seeing a viable browser ship. (Parenthetically, his self-proclaimed "gruntle" and blog are some of the most entertaining geek writing out there. His "nomo zilla" forms the basis for the closing pages of my Mozilla chapter.)

What I didn't know at the time was that Mozilla would eventually ship that browser, and that from the original Mozilla would arise something even more important for the world of free software: Firefox. Unlke Mozilla, which was always rather a worthy also-ran - fiercely loved by its fans, but largely ignored by the vast majority of Net users - Firefox showed that open source could be both cool and populist.

Given this background, I was therefore delighted to come across (via Slashdot) chapter 2 of the story in the form of a fascinating entry in the blog of Ben Goodger, the lead engineer of Firefox. What is particularly satifying is that he begins it in early 1999 - at precisely the moment that mine stops. Is that art or what?

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