Second most widely used browser in the world according to a recent study by Net Researcher, 16 versions in and eight years down the road, Mozilla Firefox has proven that open source software can create a good consumer product.
Currently on an Asian tour to push the open-source movement through Mozilla, chairman and ex-CEO (better known as Chief Lizard Wrangler within her organisation), Mitchell Baker talked about how Firefox has changed the outlook on open source software and why their browser remains a popular choice.
Acknowledging that open source is very broad, Baker explained that Mozilla's main focus is how a person interacts with the Web and empowering people to learn and create for themselves.
"We build products like Firefox to bring the [open source] mission forward. Our goal in life is to build a layer of the Internet that is focused entirely on openness and your ability to control it and learn," Baker said.
Being non-profit, Mozilla has communities of volunteer developers all over Asia and the world and Baker described them as a group of people who had a vision which was in sync with Mozilla's.
"Volunteers participate for a number of reasons, but they believe in the nature of the Internet that we believe in, which is a global public resource available to everyone," she said. And it's because of this, she claims, that Mozilla doesn't quite work the same way as commercial software vendors.
How open source changed the browser
"Before Firefox, people didn't feel like the browser was important, and that the complete system that Microsoft offered was the only possible answer," Baker said in relation to the reason why Firefox began eight years ago.
Citing Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Baker spoke at length about how the browser was clearly the first component that the consumer could touch and interact with and that's the reason why Microsoft worked very hard to retain control of the browser.
"It wasn't clear to most people how bad the browser (Internet Explorer) was. What Firefox did was to prove that consumers are intelligent enough to go out and download a product that is useful to them [...] Firefox really showed that consumers are smarter than what we sometimes give them credit for," she explained.
Time and time again, Baker reiterated her stance that the browser was something that should be open and controlled by the users and how they chose to see the Internet.
Baker used the example of Firefox's language capabilities; stating that the open source browser was a pioneer at treating languages and locales as first class citizens. Back then, she claims, software was released in English and possibly three other languages, but Firefox during its debut was released in 12-14 languages straight out of the gate.
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