Firefox at 5: remembering Phoenix

180px-mozilla_foundation_logosvg.pngAs you may have read elsewhere, today marks the 5th anniversary of the release of Mozilla Firefox 1.0. The browser, intended as a direct attack on the market dominance (and abysmal build quality) of Internet Explorer, has gone from strength to strength in those five years, proving that the software we use to view the web can be as important as the content we’re viewing.

But this story didn’t really begin on November 9th, 2004. Firefox had already been around for a couple of years, under the name of Phoenix (and, briefly, Firebird). That was when many internet users, including myself, first had a chance to get to grips with what was to become a revolutionary piece of software. I was still using a 56k dialup connection when I first used Phoenix, so load times really mattered!

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You can still download Phoenix 0.5 (from 2002) and, apart from gaping security holes it’s riddled with, the program itself is eminently usable and very reminiscent of Firefox 3.5.5. Some page elements display incorrectly on newer websites, but the most notable difference is how much faster ‘bloated’ Firefox 3.5.5 is. Also, Firefox uses a heck of a lot more memory than Phoenix ever did, but that seems OK because computers have so much more memory available.

Many of the keyboard shortcuts and features in Firefox were already available in Phoenix. Tabbed browsing, for example, works well in the older browser, though you couldn’t carry out advanced tab operations like dragging tabs to reorder them. Phoenix 0.5 also fails the Acid3 browser test, with a score of 39/100 – still strikingly better than ‘standards be damned’ Internet Explorer 7 (12/100).

Taking another look at Phoenix 0.5 today has brought back a lot of memories… like how the default theme was ugly but the favorites manager was streets ahead of IE’s offering (which it still is). Phoenix was an important piece of software that restored hope to web users like me who’d grown up with Netscape, only to see it die from lack of development. So yes, today is Firefox’s birthday. But I’m remembering Phoenix.

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