According to these documents, Mozilla Foundation was incorporated on July 14th, 2003. It's been five years. Five years that come on top of the five years under Netscape's structure. Five years during which the community has experienced pretty much all the range of possible emotions, from hopelessness (when Netscape gave up) to victory. What seemed desperate in 2003 is now a daily reality. We're approaching 200 million active users.
I remember in 2003, I was going through some outplacement training, following the big Netscape lay-off. Picture this: unemployed people in a conference room, explaining to each other their "professional project plans". Most of us were quite depressed, I have to say. It was my turn to explain to the group what I was going to do. I started:
I want to build a browser. It will be built by a community of people, led by a non-profit organization. And we'll distribute it freely to the world. I hope that we'll do a better product than Microsoft...
People would gently smile at me, in an awkward way. They did not feel like telling me that my plan actually sounded crazy. Who wants to break a poor guy's heart, just after he's lost his job?
Then Peterv, who was at Netscape with me and co-founded Mozilla Europe, would go to a similar meeting, with some of the same people. He would tell his version of the story. And some of the attendees, who had heard me earlier on, would tell him: "Oh, you must be with Tristan, the charismatic Guru!". That was how people perceived us, adepts of a funky new religion. Because they could not really seize what Mozilla was about (not a company, for sure, but more than just a hobby, with insane goals), they considered us crazy people. A few years later, when I think about it, I guess there were not far from the truth .
Even my wife at the time, when I told her I wanted to work on Mozilla full-time instead of pursuing a less exciting but financially rewarding career that would pay the bills and feed our two kids, responded "I'm not sure to understand what all this thing is about, but it looks like it's important to you". Indeed!
Despite being pictured as crazy people, Peterv, Axel, Gandalf, Gerv, Jan, Olivier, Pascal, and the hundreds of other Mozilla Europe contributors kept working long hours by contributing to the Mozilla project at different levels, in order to make Mozilla a success in Europe. It's still hard to explain why Mozilla is important today. It was much harder 5 years ago, when Firefox existed solely in a few people's minds.
Interestingly enough, I've read something today (just 2 days after the anniversary) that describes really well what makes Mozilla particularly close to my heart:
Mozilla matters because Firefox is a consumer product. And not just any consumer product, it is THE consumer product that allows people to interact with the world wide web, the most consumer oriented part of the internet. Thus, while Apache, Linux, Sendmail and the million of other open source projects matter (a great deal!), the simple fact is, Mozilla is the brand that represents both the potential of open source and the importance of an open internet. This matters because it means a) Firefox and Mozilla are the catalysts in creating social awareness among millions of consumers about the importance of the open internet and b) as a result, Mozilla will likely be the first port of call of these newly awakened activists who wish to find ways to contribute.
What David Eaves said!
Now the question is "should Mozilla, now that Firefox 3 is such a success, tackle more ambitious goals?" There is a long discussion on blogs about this. I plan to enter the discussion soon (as soon as my bloody Inbox gets back to a manageable size, that is...)