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Firefox has been very popular from even before it hit the version 1.0 mark. As the browser progresssed from version 1.0 onward it kept improving with each release. As well, more and more people began to use Firefox; 99 days after ver. 1.0 was released, over 25 million copies of the exe were downloaded from the Mozilla Foundation website and Firefox hit its 100th million download only 344 days after the release of ver. 1.0. On November 29, 2005, ver. 1.5 was released to the general public creating another leap in the number of people using Firefox with over 2 million copies of the broswer being downloaded in the first 36 hours.
Some of the main features of this browser are an integrated pop-up blocker, tabbed browsing, live bookmarks, and an extensions mechanism to allow for an individualized browsing experience. Although other browsers contain some of these features, Firefox was one of the first to combine them into one efficent package.
Firefox has slowly been taking market share away from the industry dominant Internet Explorer, the main browser being used today. Some reports estimate that Firefox is being used by 9.4% of internet users.
Dave Hyatt and Blake Ross began working on the Firefox as an experimental branch of the Mozilla project. They believed that the commercial requirements of Netscape's sponsorship and developer-driven feature creep compromised the utility of the Mozilla browser. To combat what they saw as the Mozilla Suite's software bloat, they created a pared-down browser, with which they intended to replace the Mozilla Suite.
Mozilla Firefox retains the cross-platform nature of the original Mozilla browser by using the XUL user interface markup language. Through Firefox's support of XUL, users may extend their browser's capabilities by applying themes and extensions. Initially, these add-ons raised security concerns, so with the release of Firefox 0.9, the Mozilla Foundation opened Mozilla Update, a website containing themes and extensions "approved" as safe for use.
The Mozilla Foundation had intended to make the Mozilla Suite obsolete and to replace it with Firefox. On March 10, 2005, the Foundation announced that official releases of Mozilla would cease with the 1.7.x series. The Foundation continues to maintain the 1.7.x branch because of its continued use by many corporate users and because makers of other software still often bundle the product. The Mozilla community (as opposed to the Foundation) will release the next version of Mozilla. These community releases will be called SeaMonkey and will start at version 1.0 to avoid any possible confusion between it and current versions of Mozilla Suite. The Mozilla Foundation will continue giving support (such as CVS hosting) to the Mozilla community developers.
Firefox has developed considerably since its first release as Phoenix on September 23, 2002. Pre-1.0 releases suffered many issues with extensions, as the code for handling them changed from version to version.
Throughout its development, Firefox versions have had internal codenames. These have a basis in real locations, with codenames such as Three Kings, Royal Oak, One Tree Hill, Mission Bay, and Greenlane all referencing suburbs in Auckland, New Zealand, and the name Whangamata coming from a small seaside town on the Coromandel Peninsula, southeast of Auckland in New Zealand. Ben Goodger, the lead developer of Firefox, who grew up in Auckland, chose these codenames. The other codenames included in the Firefox roadmap derive from an actual roadmap of a journey through California to Phoenix, Arizona.
Several builds codenamed "Deer Park" were released in 2005. According to Goodger, "Deer Park is not Deer Park, Victoria, but just a symbolic name. I was riding LIRR a few weeks ago and saw the name go by and I thought it sounded nice." Therefore, this name probably references Deer Park, New York, a CDP on Long Island.
"Deer Park" was originally destined to become Firefox 1.1. However, Mozilla Foundation decided to change the version number of the next major release from "1.1" to "1.5", since it contained more new features than originally planned. In an attempt to dissuade end-users from downloading the preview versions, "Deer Park" versions do not use the standard Mozilla Firefox branding. On November 29, 2005, Firefox 1.5 was officially released.
The developers of Firefox aim to produce a browser that "just works" for most casual users. Those who are interested can add (as extensions and plugins) many features not packaged with Firefox.
Useability and Accesibility
Firefox was designed to have a more simplified user interface which allows for a much less cluttered look than other browsers. Firefox supports tabbed browseing which allows multiple web pages to be open in one browser window at one time. Many people use Firefox over Internet Explorer for this reason since IE does not support tabbed browsing. As well, Firefox was one of the first broswers to have a customizable pop-up blocker.
For the people who need to find stuff, Firefox has a incremental find feature or "find as you type". When this feature is enabled, the user will start typing a word and Firefox will automatically find the word and highlight it for you. As you type more of the word, Firefox refines it search. Another thing to help people search is the built-in search toolbar which allows the user to search a number of search enginges with a click of a mouse button.
The design of Firefox aims at high extensibility. Through extensions (installed via XPInstall modules), users may activate new features, such as mouse gestures, advertisement blocking, proxy server switching, and debugging tools. Wikipedia editors using Firefox can even download a customised toolbar. Many features formerly part of the Mozilla Suite, such as the ChatZilla IRC client and a calendar, have become Firefox extensions.
One can view the extension system as a ground for experimentation, where one can test new functionalities. Occasionally, an extension becomes part of the official product (for example tabbed browsing, a feature which proved popular through the MultiZilla extension, eventually became part of standard Mozilla).
Firefox also supports a variety of themes/skins, which change its appearance. Themes consist of packages of CSS and image files. The Mozilla Update web site offers many themes for downloading. Beyond adding a new theme, users can customize Firefox's interface by moving and manipulating its various buttons, fields, and menus, and likewise by adding and deleting entire toolbars.
A Firefox installation can keep all extensions and themes available on the Mozilla Update site up-to-date through Firefox's interface, which periodically checks for updates to installed themes and extensions.
Additionally, Firefox stores many hidden preferences that users can access by typing about:config in the address bar. This mechanism enables features such as single-window mode and error pages, or speeding up page rendering by various tweaks. Experimental features like HTTP pipelining often lurk hidden in the about:config menu.
Some of Firefox's key security features include the use of the sandbox security model, same origin policy and external protocol whitelisting.
Some argue that an important characteristic of Firefox security lies in the fact that anyone can see its source code. At least one other person reviews proposed software changes, and typically yet another person carries out a "super-review". Once placed in the software, changes become visible for anyone else to consider, protest against, or improve.
In addition, the Mozilla Foundation operates a "bug bounty" scheme: people who report a valid critical security bug receive a US$500 cash reward (for each report) and a Mozilla T-shirt. According to the Mozilla Foundation, this "bug bounty" system aims to "encourage more people to find and report security bugs in our products, so that we can make our products even more secure than they already are". It should be noted that anyone in the world can report a bug. Also, all users have access to the source code of Mozilla Firefox, to the internal design documentation, to forum discussions, and to other material that can help them in finding bugs.
The Mozilla Foundation has implemented a policy on security bugs in order to help contributors to deal with security vulnerabilities. The policy restricts access to a security-related bug report to members of the security team until after Mozilla has shipped a fix for the problem. This approach aims to minimize the exploitation of publicly known vulnerabilities and to give the developers time to issue a patch. While similar to other "responsible disclosure" policies operated by software vendors such as Microsoft, this policy falls short of the full disclosure principle favored by some security researchers.
Spread Firefox Campaigns
The rapid adoption of Firefox apparently accelerated in part due to a series of aggressive community-marketing campaigns since 2004. For example, Blake Ross and Asa Dotzler organized a series of events dubbed "marketing week".
On September 14, 2004, a community-marketing portal dubbed "Spread Firefox" (SFX) debuted along with the Firefox Preview Release, creating a centralized space for the discussion of various marketing techniques. The portal enhanced the "Get Firefox" button program, giving users "referrer points" as an incentive. The site lists the top 250 referrers. From time to time, the SFX team or SFX members launch marketing events organized at the Spread Firefox website.
Portable Firefox is a repackaged version of Firefox designed to run from a USB flash drive, iPod, external hard drive or any other portable media. It arose out of a mozillaZine thread in June of 2004. John T. Haller released the first packaged version and then led further development from there. It includes a specialized launcher that adjusts extensions and themes to work as they are moved from computer to computer. It also uses compression (courtesy of UPX and 7-zip) to reduce the overall footprint and increase speed.
Haller has also started development work on Portable Firefox Live, which aims to run on CD-R or other read-only media. A number of applications are already using Portable Firefox Live to deliver a browser and html-based content from CD.