The Andrew Turnbull Mozilla Network

A Visual Browser History, from Netscape 4 to Mozilla Firefox

Part 4: Phoenix, Mozilla Firebird, and Mozilla Firefox (2002-)

Firefox is the next major step in the Mozilla story. This software originated in mid-2002 as an experimental branch off the existing Mozilla 1.x codebase, and used a number of codenames (initially "Phoenix") prior to the adoption of the "Firefox" name in February 2004. Unlike the existing Mozilla suite—which included e-mail and HTML composer utilities in addition to the core browser—Phoenix was conceived as a standalone browser and nothing more (actually quite similar to Netscape Navigator 1.x and 4.0 in that respect), with attention focused instead on advantages in software size, performance, and customizability. The Mozilla e-mail client and HTML composer tools were re-developed as the standalone Thunderbird and Nvu applications in the same manner.

[Phoenix 0.1 screenshot] The first version of Phoenix—the "Firefox" name still being over a year away—was released to testers for Windows and Linux in September 2002.

Compared to Mozilla 1.0.1 or 1.1 (which were current at the time), the user interface of Phoenix was drastically simplified, with the inessential "Go" and "Window" menus removed along with the "Search" and "Print" toolbar buttons.

The user interface itself was given a distinctive appearance with large orange buttons and icons. As might be expected with such an early release, Phoenix 0.1 was buggy, but nevertheless it was surprisingly functional with features such as toolbar customization already accounted for. The Mozilla suite application icon (then a recent addition with Mozilla 1.1) was also retained.
[Phoenix 0.2 screenshot] Phoenix 0.2 quickly followed, and implemented some noticeable changes.

The toolbar buttons were shrunk down and consolidated to the left side, leaving room for a search bar on the other end. There were feature additions as well, including automatic completion of web forms, the return of a rudimentary sidebar, and improved management of third-party "extensions."
[Phoenix 0.3 screenshot] Version 0.3, the third Phoenix release in a single month, saw the reappearance of the "Go" menu, different default links provided on the Personal Toolbar, and the disappearance of the page-loading bar when a page was not being loaded.

Image blocking, a "whitelist" of allowed pop-up windows, and improved tabbed-browsing behavior and preferences were among the new features.

Phoenix 0.4 (which is incompatible with Windows 95) implemented type-ahead find, miscellaneous improvements, and the advent of compatible alternate visual interface themes.
[Phoenix 0.5 screenshot] A "Home" button was added to the toolbar by default by the time Phoenix 0.5 was released, and as in Mozilla 1.3 the status bar began to take on a "pushed-in" appearance.

The capability of loading multiple tabs simultaneously as a start page was added (also in Mozilla 1.2), and other changes included download, history, accessibility, and performance improvements.

As a final footnote the infamous Bug 171349 surfaced around this time, accounting for the generic Windows icon appearing on the title bar and taskbar when running the software on Windows 95, 98, or ME.
[Mozilla Firebird 0.6 screenshot] Five months elapsed between the release of Phoenix 0.5 and the next version, in part because of bureaucracy surrounding a change to a new codename, "Mozilla Firebird."

The lapse between versions provided an opportunity for many other changes and improvements to make their appearance as well, perhaps most notably a redesigned visual interface (the "Qute theme") with colorful new toolbar buttons.

The Preferences dialogue was redesigned, bookmarks and privacy options were improved, and automatic image resizing was added; at least partially analogous to the changes affecting Mozilla 1.x at the same time.

Starting with this version the browser finally began to be made available for Mac OS X, as Mozilla Firebird gained popularity outgrowing its original "experimental" status.

Note the incorrect copyright dates that appear on the "About:" pages in this and the next three screenshots. The correct 2003 or 2004 dates appear in the pop-up "About" dialogues accessible from the Help menu.
[Mozilla Firebird 0.6.1 screenshot] Mozilla Firebird 0.6.1 was primarily a bug-fix release; nevertheless, a throbber graphic of a stylized bird that rotates as the browser retrieves information was added on the far end of the menu bar, and the magnifying glass on the search bar was now turned the other way. (Picky, aren't I?)

[Mozilla Firebird 0.6.1 application icon] Mozilla Firebird began to finally carry its own application icon, seen at right; an abstracted wad of flames or feathers taken from the Phoenix/Firebird "About" graphic.
[Mozilla Firebird 0.7 screenshot] Support for the sidebar web panels introduced with Netscape 6 and the Mozilla suite, better preferences dialogues, a new passwords manager, support for alternate style sheets on pages (selectable through a status bar menu), and menu items such as "Send Page" that tied into a compatible e-mail client (presumably Thunderbird) were added to Mozilla Firebird 0.7.

Visually, Firebird 0.7 looked essentially the same as version 0.6.1. The search bar, however, now used the icon of the active search engine (in this case Google), and a red-orange backdrop was added to the old Phoenix graphic on the "About" screen...which would appear here for the last time.
[Mozilla Firefox 0.8 screenshot] By far one of the most important and notable changes to the software occurred on February 9, 2004, when with the release of version 0.8 the final name and logo for the browser, "Firefox," were revealed to the public for the first time.

In other developments, the Windows version was now available in a user-friendly installer and a new download manager was added; along with other assorted improvements. A small downward-pointing arrow was added to the drop list of the search bar, but visual changes not relating to branding were minimal.

[Mozilla Firefox 0.8 application icon] For some reason the new Firefox logo was missing from the "About:" page of the browser seen here, although it was highly visible in the proper pop-up "About Firefox" dialogue and formed the new application icon seen at right.
[Mozilla Firefox 0.9 screenshot] Yet another visual theme with small, widely-spaced toolbar button icons made its appearance in Firefox 0.9 (actually quite similar to the interface introduced in the Macintosh version of Firefox 0.8), when the "Qute" look introduced with Firebird 0.6 was scrapped as the default interface due to licensing issues. Additionally, the obsolete Firebird throbber was replaced with a subtle circular arrangement of shapes, retained in Firefox today.

An online help system was added along with an extension/theme manager, a tool in the Windows version to import user data from other browsers, and a rudimentary update tool.

The Firefox logo now appeared on the "About:" page, and the copyright date there was finally corrected.

Also with the release of version 0.9, Firefox began to be promoted over the version 1.x suite on Mozilla's website, although it's possible that it may have started to exceed the suite in popularity (in spite of its own beta status) before then.
[Mozilla Firefox 0.9.1 screenshot] The simplistic visual appearance introduced with Firefox 0.9 was not well-received by users, and some changes were quickly implemented in a Firefox 0.9.1 bug- and security-fix update.

All of the toolbar icons were made bigger, with the "back" and "forward" buttons now being distinct arrows instead of triangles, the "reload" arrows rotated 90 degrees, and the "home" house now turned at an angle and having shed its chimney.

With these changes, Mozilla Firefox essentially adopted the theme that remained in place for the next two years.
[Mozilla Firefox 1.0 Preview Release screenshot] A number of rough edges were present in Mozilla Firefox 0.9.x, and the next version, Firefox 1.0PR (Preview Release) or Firefox 0.10, helped smooth some of them out.

Toolbar icons now changed position when buttons were pressed and were more closely spaced, and the appearance of site icons in the bookmarks list was more reliable. The pop-up "Find" dialogue was replaced by a Find bar with additional features, and strong encryption in the Passwords Manager was added.

A major feature addition, meanwhile, was the advent of Live Bookmarks: A tool enabling users to view RSS feed headlines in the Bookmarks list or toolbar, and selectable through an "RSS" icon appearing on the status bar when visiting certain websites. A "Latest Headlines" button was provided on the Personal Toolbar (or Bookmarks Toolbar) by default to demonstrate this feature.
[Mozilla Firefox 1.0 screenshot] The momentous Firefox 1.0 release finally came on November 9, 2004, attracting more than 100 million downloads over the next year.

As with Mozilla 1.0 two years earlier, there were few major feature changes over the previous testing release (with most attention given instead to matters such as bug fixes).

That said, tabbed browsing controls were made more versatile (with the capability added to make other applications calling upon a browser open links up in a new tab, existing tab, or new window); a new [Live Bookmark icon] icon was devised to indicate Live Bookmarks, replacing the nondescript "RSS" and folder icons of version 1.0PR; a "Go" button was added to the toolbar by default; the toolbar icons themselves became a little more closely spaced yet again; and the Firefox logo itself was tweaked slightly with a glassier globe and a fox with a more distinctly orange color, more locks of hair farther up the back and fewer further down, and a more shapely snout.

Finally, with version 1.0 Firefox was now available in dozens of languages and localizations.
[Mozilla Firefox 1.5 screenshot] After being "finished" with version 1.0, Firefox's development graduated to a strategy of less-frequent releases but with more features and changes manifesting in each one. This allowed individual versions to achieve a critical mass of penetration and popular support, and many enterprises began to deploy the browser during this period.

Though it wasn't a major-point update, Firefox 1.5 nevertheless implemented well over a year's worth of development. Bug 171349 was finally fixed (noted by the presence of a proper icon on the title bar and taskbar in this screenshot), the Live Bookmarks addition control was moved from the status bar to the location field, pop-up error dialogues were replaced with messages appearing within the browser window, and the menus in the Windows version now took on a two-dimensional appearance. Other new changes and features that appeared included the capability to rearrange browser tabs through dragging and dropping, "Clear Private Data" privacy and "Report a Broken Web Site" compatibility features, a redesigned tab-like options dialogue, and enhancements to rendering capabilities.
[Home] The Network [Home] Mozilla Network [Back] Part 3

Valid XHTML 1.0! ©2006-13 Andrew Turnbull.
Last update November 18, 2013.