Fifteen years ago on March 31st, 1998, a company called Netscape published the source code of its flagship product: a Web browser called Communicator. The Mozilla project was born. I immediately fell in love with the idea. As I was an Emacs user, I already had some experience with Open Source and Free Software, and I saw the potential of combining World-scale nature of the Internet with the collaboration and sharing of the Open Source world. But not many people could envision this with us. To be fair, like Eric S. Raymond said at the time, “Netscape is the first major company to exploit the power of the open source strategy”.
Things were very different back then. Proprietary software was the norm, and as far as I can tell, Open Source applications where mostly unknown.
What motivated Mozillians (volunteers or paid staff) at the time was the contrast between the promise of the Web and the fact that the Web was technically stagnating – thanks to one browser having a monopoly position. It was very frustrating.
From this frustration an idea was born: let’s build the Internet we want, not the one that’s handed down to us. It sounded crazy at the time, and to a certain extent it was. How could a handful of people under a not-for-profit banner threaten the most powerful IT juggernaut?
Fast forward to 2013. Mozilla can be proud of its accomplishments: competition is back on the browser market, the Web is faster, safer and more innovative than ever, and Open Source software is widely spread. Mozilla can be proud of its achievements during the past 15 years!
However, the future of digital is not that reassuring. Mobile is the new frontier, but the open nature of the Web is not the norm in this new realm. The Web brought the freedom for all to create and publish without having to ask for permission, the freedom to learn by viewing the source, and the freedom to create content and apps that will run everywhere, built with technologies that are not owned by anyone in particular.
Mozilla has decided to tackle this problem, to make the Web a first-class citizen on smartphones, and to make it the obvious choice for mobile application development. The first step is Firefox for Android. The next step is Firefox OS.
Just like 15 years ago, it’s about building the Internet we want, not the one that’s handed down to us – and just like 15 years ago, this may sound crazy. It could very well be. But for those of us who see the potential of this idea, it is irresistible. I see the potential of this grand idea. Do you?