In fact, this open-source spirit helped Mozilla hit its deadlines and release a safe product, says Schroepfer. In the months prior to the November 29 release, early versions of the upgrade were available for download, so people could test it out and report problems to Mozilla. As an incentive, Mozilla also sponsors a program, called Bug Bounty, that awards $500 to anyone who finds a severe security issue within the software.
But with so many contributors, is the latest Firefox bogged down with too many new features? “One thing that people love about Firefox is that it’s very slimmed down” compared to Internet Explorer, says Mozilla’s Schroepfer. It is a fundamental philosophy of the Mozilla project, according to Mozilla president Mitchell Baker, to provide software that’s still simple to use.
For those who want more functionality, however, there are more than 800 different downloadable add-ons, called “extensions,” that offer features like live weather forecasts, card games, and social bookmarking. Most of these extensions, which can be searched and downloaded free at Mozilla’s add-ons website, are designed by users of Firefox who want to customize their web browsing – and they’ve also proved crucial in the development of Firefox 1.5. Mozilla programmers have used extensions “as a mechanism to figure out” how to best upgrade the software, according to Schroepfer. And some user-generated extensions, such as the movable tabs function, have been incorporated directly into the 1.5 release.
While Firefox has caught the attention of millions of Web users just recently – grabbing about 10 percent of the browser market since it debuted in November 2004 – the program’s roots actually go back to 1998, when a small group of software engineers affiliated with Netscape began to create a web browser with source code that Netscape made public. In 2003, when Netscape was absorbed by America Online, AOL kept the open-source project alive by forming the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. (The Mozilla Corporation, which develops and markets Firefox, is a for-profit entity that is wholly owned by the Mozilla Foundation and sustained by licensing fees from Web search companies whose services are offered via Firefox.)