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Mozilla: 7 years old and as idealistic as ever

Mozilla 1.0 was launched seven years ago, and since that time has changed names (to Firefox), but has never changed its principles.

On March 31, 1999, Jamie Zawinski penned the obituary for Mozilla, developer of the Firefox Web browser. It was actually Zawinski's resignation letter from Mozilla.org and Netscape (then America Online), but in parting he admitted that Mozilla "had finally lost the so-called 'browser war.'"

If only he had kept the faith, as Mozilla Chairperson Mitchell Baker has, Zawinski might be penning a different post for Mozilla, what with its 22.51-percent global market share which rises, almost like clockwork, five percent each year.

Firefox, ne "Mozilla 1.0," was launched seven years ago today. Intriguingly, as Glyn Moody captures in an excellent retrospective, its mission and fire have remained constant since Baker first announced Mozilla 1.0:

As the browser has become the main interface between users and the Web over the past several years, the goal of the Mozilla project is to innovate and enable the creation of standards-compliant technology to keep content on the Web open. As more and more programmers and companies are embracing Mozilla as a strategic technology, Mozilla 1.0 signals the advent of even further dissemination and adoption of open source and standards-based software across the Web.

This could have been written yesterday, such is the enduring commitment of Mozilla to an open Web.

However, as Mozilla has learned over the years and as Wired details, good intentions do not a successful open-source project make. Mozilla has repeatedly failed in the past seven years in its efforts to create a vibrant, community-driven browser.

But it has also repeatedly learned from those failures, and after two rewrites can today claim that 40 percent of Firefox development comes from outside the Mozilla organization, an incredible feat and one that would make Zawinski proud. Those rewrites, along with Mozilla's unwavering commitment to open source (a commitment that is helped by its nonprofit status), have made it a strong contender to be the dominant Web platform.

Still, in a telling sign of just how influential Mozilla has been, browser competition is now coming from other open-source contenders like Google Chrome, which is broadening Chrome's appeal with cross-platform support. This is a good thing. It signals that Mozilla, with its ubiquitous, open-source Firefox browser, has reset the industry's expectations for what a browser should be.

Open source. Driven by a desire for an open Web. Thank you, Mozilla.

Update @ 12:05 PT: Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols provides an update on Zawinski that suggests yes, he really should have stayed with Mozilla. But hindsight is always 20/20.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.