Innovation of a browser (sort of)
Posted on 11th January 2012 by Ian Kynnersley -
There's a lot of talk in the studio at the moment about large organisations innovating like startups. For obvious reasons, large organisations often find it difficult to really innovate or disrupt themselves. Some address this issue by setting up R&D departments or Labs but these are often there to experiment with new ideas and come up with new products to compliment a company's existing portfolio rather than to disrupt a company's primary business.
It occurred to me today that Firefox is a great example of a large organisation innovating like a startup.
In 2002, Mozilla had the Mozilla Suite. They had inherited Netscape and turned it into the Mozilla Navigator which was the browser part of this monster suite of apps that was growing with every release and becoming increasingly bloated and slow. Hardly anyone used it.
A couple of employees decided to start again and created a stripped back, lightweight browser with the promise that each release would be smaller than the last and that only essential functionality would be built-in. And so Mozilla Phoenix was born. A tiny browser that paled in comparison to it's older brother but that was focussed on making browsing the web a pleasurable experience.
They stayed true to their word and within 18 months, after a brief stint as Firebird, Phoenix had become Mozilla Firefox. Each release was smaller than the last and - for a while at least - the core browser was completely stripped of unnecessary functionality. It was easy to install and ran incredibly quickly and could be extended through the use of 3rd party extensions.
Within 2 years, the Mozilla Foundation announced they were no longer supporting the Mozilla Suite in favour of Firefox (and the standalone email client Thunderbird which appeared shortly after Firefox). At this point, Microsoft Internet Explorer accounted for over 90% of internet traffic with Firefox less than 4%.
As at October 2011, IE accounts for just 34% and Firefox makes up 24%. Not only that, it is also directly responsible for the wholesale shift away from the idea that IE IS the internet, creating opportunities for competitive browsers to flourish and in turn for the internet to move forward.
These days, Mozilla IS Firefox. Obviously they do a whole load more stuff as well but it's their core product and their calling card. It's the thing they do.