On November 9th 2004, the well-known web-browser ‘Firefox’ was released, although it had earlier been called something entirely different altogether.

Originally created in 2002 by members of the Mozilla community, the browser had the codename “Phoenix”. This was supposed to reflect the project’s aim to “rise from the ashes of Netscape Navigator” after it was defeated in the browser wars by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. However, a software company named Phoenix Technologies meant there were trademark issues, so it was renamed.

The next (brief) iteration was “Firebird”, which is a more literal expression of what a Phoenix is. However, once again this led to conflicts with another software project.

Ultimately,  “Firefox” was selected. However, this animal has nothing to do with foxes, even though the logo suggests otherwise. It is, in fact, the colloquial term for the red panda, which was adopted as the mascot for the project following its renaming. A red panda was chosen because, at the time, relatively few people knew about this animal and was therefore less likely to cause yet more trademark issues! As an aside, a red-panda’s habitat is around China and as a species they are related to skunks, weasels and raccoons and so they are completely unrelated to giant Pandas (which are actually a type of bear).

As far as naming is concerned, the plot thickens because the community called Mozilla was originally so-called because ‘Mozilla’ was originally the code name for the Netscape Navigator web browser, and it was a portmanteau created from the words “Mosaic” and “Godzilla.” The name was chosen to signal Netscape’s goal to be the “Mosaic killer,” as Mosaic was the dominant web browser at the time Netscape was being developed. The addition of “Godzilla” to the mix signified the hope that Netscape would become a powerful and formidable player in the browser space, much like the fictional monster. Phew!

Currently, as of October 2023, the browser share of Firefox is around 3.06% (i.e. about 90% down from its prime in 2009 when it had about 32% browser share). So, it looks like Firefox’s best days are behind it but who knows what’s around the corner?

By Mike Knight

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