Ben Goodger wrote a great blog today about the roots of Firefox. An important part of his article describes the power struggles and other issues that can result between an open source community and a commercial entity that takes the product to market. In some cases, the community and a company can work well together, but in the case of Netscape and Mozilla many of the interactions were quite dysfunctional. This is a great read for both community members and corporate types to better understand some of the challenges of taking open source products to market (what not to do).
This is also a story about knowing when to start over. The user interface for the browser had so many problems that they felt the best course of action was a fresh approach. In my opinion, this is why Firefox has been so incredibly successful with a broad base of users. Quite a few open source products are designed by developers, for developers with little thought given to usability by the masses. Firefox, on the other hand, was designed from the beginning to be a browser that anyone could use and would want to use to browse the web. Firefox is so intuitive and easy to use that anyone, even those without any advanced computer knowledge, can install and use it. The Firefox community of extension and theme developers has also made it easy for anyone to control and customize the user experience without any programming knowledge required. I have coerced friends and co-workers into installing Firefox, and most of them immediately become addicted to one or more Firefox extensions. A friend of mine installed Firefox for his mom; she was not sure about making the change until he showed her the themes, and when she found that she could use a different theme for each holiday or mood, she was converted. Little things can make a big difference in the adoption of any software product, and Firefox’s attention to detail on the user interface paved the way for the broad success that Firefox is currently enjoying.