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!"
- 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.