On January 20th, 1998, Netscape laid off a lot of people. One of them would have been me, as my "department", such as it was, had been eliminated, but I ended up mometarily moving from "clienteng" over to the "website" division. For about 48 hours I thought that I might end up writing a webmail product or something.
That, uh, didn't happen.
At 8am on January 22, 1998, Netscape put out a press release announcing that the source code to the web browser would be released to the public at the end of March. This was the first that I had heard that this was even being considered.
Lacking any coherent information or direction from management (spoiler alert, there was no plan! none!) a handful of us in the trenches had some impromptu meetings, which began something like:
"What the fuck, I mean what the actual fuck?"
"I thought you got fired? Someone told me you were fired."
"I don't think I'm fired, are you fired?" "I don't think so?"
"Ok so are we doing this? I guess we're doing this?"
"We're doing what now?"
"I got this."
So then I registered the domain mozilla.org. According to WHOIS, the registration went live on January 23rd at 9pm.
The rest, as they say, is cvs log. I mean history. The rest is history.
Here are some photos I took at a meeting we held in early February 1998. (On film! With a camera manfactured in the nineteen seventies! Every photo you took, even the bad ones, cost you like a dollar!) That's Pacman trying to explain to The Usual Suspects the proposed org chart that I had drawn on the wall. Please note that "THE INTERNET" is represented as A CLOUD, because that was the style at the time.
The oldest version of mozilla.org in the Wayback Machine is from December 12, 1998, so I have reconstructed some older versions of the web site.
For the first month, I was hosting the mozilla.org domain on my own server, just to have a placeholder there, and I don't seem to have a copy of that first version. It took me that whole month to figure out how to move the hosting into the corporate data center. But here's the oldest version that I was able to reconstruct from the mozilla.org CVS repository:
- February 27, 1998 -- mozilla dot org version zero point one.
And here are a few later copies:
- March 6, 1998: The day that we released the 0.90 draft of the Netscape Public License. (The what now? Yeah, I wanted us to just use BSD, but there were... Imperial Entanglements.)
- March 25, 1998: Party announcement! For the source release day I rented Sound Factory, a gigantic local nightclub, booked some bands, DJs and circus acts, and we threw open the doors for free. FORESHADOWING. NO SPOILERS.
- March 31, 1998: Three Thirty One: the actual source release day. "Come and get it", as the "News" page says. (Party photos.)
That "Sponsored by DevEdge Online" thing in the top banner is because upper management assumed that the way "open source" worked was, the internal "developer relations" consultancy division would just fart out a zip file and then corporate customers would... handwave handwave... pay us for something? Disabusing them of this notion was a big part of my job that first month.
Fun fact! When I wrote the mozilla.org web site, I designed it to have a "source" directory that contained just the document bodies, and a Makefile generated an output directory that wrapped the headers and menus and such around that to emit the static web site that was actually served. The output directory was not checked into the source control archive, obviously, so I don't have a copy of that. So... I dug up the old CVS archive, checked out those old web site source revs, and then I had to run that website-generating perl script that I wrote 25 years ago.
...it worked without any modifications. Self-high-five.
And I gotta say, that old web site design hasn't really decayed much. If I were tweaking it today I'd have put a max-width on body of 50em or so to avoid the long lines, and I would for sure be using something sans-serif, but I think it still looks pretty good! (Remember, CSS was not even remotely a thing yet. You wanted rounded corners, you had to chisel that shit from flint.)
Here's some other Mozilla-relevant stuff:
- 2008: "Happy Run Some Old Web Browsers Day!"
On the tenth anniversary of Mozilla, I managed to bring the home.mcom.com and mosaic.mcom.com web sites back online.
- 2011: The secret history of "about:jwz", "about:mozilla" and the Netscape Throbbers.
Their tags shall until the end of days.
- 2013: "Netscape Cancer: far worse than Brand Necrophilia."
From beneath you it devours.
- 2016: "They Live and the secret history of the Mozilla logo"
Wherein I draw a line through 1930s agitprop, Ronald Reagan, methane-breathing zombie space aliens, the Mozilla logo, Barack Obama and the International Commiunist Conspiracy.
- 2019: "Hi, welcome to my TED talk"
We got the band back together, and we told some really funny stories one night as DNA Lounge.
- 2021: "Mosaic, A Legitimate Salvage"
- 2022: "As always, the only way to get a corporation to behave ethically is to create a PR disaster for their comms team:"
Dunning fucking Krugerrands.
- 2022: "@pmarca has blocked you". Hey budddddy, how you doin'?
- ...and of course the entirety of my nscp tag.
Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.
I just wanted to say that i greatly enjoyed clicking thru this post, and many of its linked posts, and that it hadn’t occurred to me that mozilla was some weird unplanned accident.
I mean, "unplanned accident" does kind of downplay all the actual planning and hard work that went into it after we read the press release...
That's why they're called children.
ah, not my intention.
i meant only in the sense that, judging from your narrative, the people who made the decision didn’t seem to really think it thru or have a plan ahead of time.
I remember seeing your story briefly in a fantastic documentary called Code Rush - it was eye-opening and motivated me to take up code development for a career. Thank you, Jamie, for the inspiration - I hope that your life has been rewarding since then.
Code Rush is available for free online, and so is all the unused footage (Creative Commons licensed).
"Please note that "THE INTERNET" is represented as A CLOUD, because that was the style at the time"
I always assumed that this is what the term "Cloud Computing" comes from.
Common misconception. "Cloud" is actually a misspelling, but it is now fully entrenched.
I get "unable to connect" if I try to open any link on that page.
Wow! What an exciting story. Love the fact that you guys used Soviet propaganda posters to convince libertarians you AREN’T communists.
At the party I jumped in and grabbed one of the party favor CDs burned with the source code. Someone (you?) kinda chided me for taking it. Still have it, still not sorry.
You have a 25-year-old data CD, maybe a CD-R...my questions are:
As the owner of a DVD-RW drive with a case dented from the inside by polycarbonate shrapnel during an attempt to read a DVD that was 10 years younger, I'd like to point out that the answer to question #2 is important and it should be considered before attempting to answer question #1.
#2 can be done safely: there are utilities to set the read speed of a CD drive to lower than max. Though that doesn't effect the initial read / recognition, and a drive may still spin up to very high speed for that. Depends on model, test with regular discs first.
Also any disc that exploded in a drive was probably flawed, not just old.
When I went to the Mozilla talk at the Silicon Valley User Group April 1st 1998 meeting, I didn't anticipate rolling into bed at about 3:30 the next morning. IIRC Netscape (or someone) laid on buses from the SVLUG meeting (at Cisco on Tasman Drive) to the club... It was an excellent party, thanks! https://www-archive.mozilla.org/party/1998/details.html
As a user, freshly coming from Gopher back then, I fondly remember the time. Waiting two minutes to load a GIGANTIC image from NASA - I felt like a king.
I tried to listen to the "TED talk" you linked (https://www.jwz.org/blog/2019/05/hi-welcome-to-my-ted-talk/), but the recording ends at 3:54:38 (with "Star Guitar" as the penultimate song - much appreciated). How do I skip to 7:01:00 ?
Instructions unclear, ended up listening to old Chemical Brothers albums.
OK, something starts at 0:58:17.
OK, it seems to start at 1:01:16.
And I exaggerated. I wasn't "freshly" coming from Gopher, that was maybe in 1995? So long ago, my memory is maybe a bit blurred, after all this time. Man, I feel old. I swear I was 22 just yesterday.
I think the 7:00 referred to the rea
I think the 7:00 referred to the clock time which the archive on the DNA Lounge site used, while the Internet Archive version just uses recording length time. And yeah, it includes the hour of music before the actual speeches happened.
And whoever posted that "flower" deserves credit for providing motivation to jwz & co. Also nice to see a post about this as I had to remind jwz about one of the anniversaries before http://web.archive.org/web/20190109121657/https://twitter.com/rosecitytransit/status/521878193163476993
My favorite Mozilla Moment was at Linux Expo '98, right after Netscape was open-sourced.
I remember that! I was (barely) standing on stage with near-debilitating food poisoning from something awful in the conference center food court.
Yes, I remember that. "Don't eat the Chinese food!" ... which I had just eaten.
I'll see your Linux Expo and raise you an Atlanta Linux Showcase :)
Hey look what I found @shaver https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XrOMdBKT14
Wow, I never thought I'd see that! Really captures the excitement of that weekend.
The Venn diagram of people @pmarca has blocked vs. the internet's best people is a circle.
holy shit my friend.
fun post and fun memories! A great adventure indeed.
“customers would... handwave handwave... pay us for something?”
This is exactly the point in all of my startup ideas that I abandon the project. 😀
Those photos are awesome - as someone who repeatedly took out the Code Rush documentary from the library as a tween it's neat to see some familiar faces in a different setting
What an adventure. What a story. Thanks!
I loved this post, thanks for putting it together.
I appreciate the unicycle on the floor.
That was ltabb's, he rode that thing around the offices constantly.
That is well jackson
This is fantastic! As an interested outside observer, wow, just wow. Thanks for sharing <3
Starring Sandra Bullock
I first downloaded Firefox circa 1999--after I read about it in the NEWSPAPER. That we got DELIVERED TO THE HOUSE.
blast from the past. Thanks for a trip down memory lane.
Sigh. So Mountain View at the turn of the century: office space, no women (as far as I can tell) but sure…unicycle. Failed to find Wienerwschnizel bag.
Actually, there were two of us in the room (last group picture includes me and Kathleen), and many more not in the room. Admittedly, it's also true that the majority of the women in clienteng were in teams like UI, Docs, and QA rather than core software dev.
Sorry I missed you, tiny phone screen and aging eyes. Thank you both for your contributions.
Not at all! It's not like the CLEAR MAJORITY in that pic weren't in fact dudes. But I will take the opportunity to shout out to such folks like the amazing Lisa Repka and Akkana Peck and the rest of our Mozillian Sister Devs... ;)
I remember downloading the release and attempting to build it on HPPA! IIRC the first drop wasn't hugely functional but it was exciting times.
I found a video of Shaver and I talking about Mozilla at Linux Expo in May 1998, just about 2 months after the source release.
The best thing that I can say about the audio quality is that it's not as bad as the video quality...
It weirds me out to know that those buildings are now part of the Google extended campus.
Wow, I remember the controversy surrounding export of crypto tools. I was at a linux meetup in the Bay Area around that time. After one of the talks, a guy said, "Oh, by the way, I'm selling these books. It's legal to export out of the country because it's not source code, it's a printed page." (I may be misremembering that part.) "But you'll find the markings here in the margin make it work really well with OCR software." I wish I'd bought one now, just for posterity.
I bought (and still have) the rsa-dolphin shirt. Since we're doing archeology, here's the exportable part: https://web.archive.org/web/20021206083347/http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts/coder/31fe/back/
Thanks for this nostalgic trip. Not that I had any connection to Mozilla, just 1990s Silicon Valley. My favorite part is the FAQ's directions to the release party. I remember adding descriptive "from the (east|north|west|south)" directions to party invites in the days before Mapquest too. Didn't want anyone to get lost wearing that prize winning Halloween costume.
Oh and an air high five back to you on that build code working perfectly after a quarter century of gathering e-dust and running on computers that were a mere chocolate bar in the CPU architect's back pocket in 1998.
Until now, I had totally forgotten about those Shepard Fairey/USSR Propaganda style Mozilla illustrations. Love those.
Love them too. Anyone remember whose work they are?
The long answer in another post: https://www.jwz.org/blog/2016/10/they-live-and-the-secret-history-of-the-mozilla-logo/
Hint: there's a reason they look so spot on.
That "party member" design would still make for a great business card. I'm quite fond of that look and still have a shirt I bought from Mozilla's store with that logo while in high school.
this is the best item I've read all day and I have spent too much time reading into your Netscape archives. Thanks for sharing all this with the world.
Did find this blogpost now after hearing that the 25th is this week on the Mozilla Festival Youtube stream :)
25 years and hopefully more (Happy early birthday)