Firefox – What is with the name?

I don’t get the name “FireFox”. I don’t get it on so many levels.

Lets look at the other browser’s names first.

We have “Internet Explorer”, descriptive, but not very creative. Microsoft does get credit for being the first to copyright the words internet and explorer together. Also Credit is due for the “IE” acronym, which makes it easy to refer to.

“Netscape” is a much more interesting name, it seems to derive from “landscape”. Meaning a view of everything around you, everything on the net that is.

Apple’s “Safari” is another play on the landscape theme.

“Opera” has to be my favourite, for it is the stage that interesting, epic stories are told. I think the creativity behind that one is top notch.

“Mozilla” is good, but no longer makes sense unless you have been around for a while, and know what Mosaic is in everyday life – “Mosaic killer/Godzilla”.

“Konqueror” seems to play on the Mozilla theme and refer to dominating other browsers.

“Lynx” is a cute name just referring to the links on the net.

But I just don’t get “FireFox” originally known as Phoenix and briefly as Mozilla Firebird. This browser has one of the worlds worst identity problems. At first Blake Ross (writer) called it Phoenix, but because of copyright issues he changed it and lost what could have been a weak reference to the fact that Netscape had lost almost all the market and he was building the browser to “rise from the ashes” based on it’s open source code. He changes the name to Firebird, keeping only the fire reference. There was a bit of confusion because another project was being developed with that name and so he changes it again. FireFox was chosen because he was sure that there was no other software being developed under that name. But it turned out a European company owned the trademark to the word FireFox, and a deal was reached to share the domain.

The frequent renaming led to a running joke among FireFox developers and an extension called Firesomething that accomplishes one thing: Every time FireFox is loaded, instead of Mozilla FireFox, the top of the screen shows a random combination of two words. You could be browsing with Mozilla Firecow or Mozilla Lightningkangaroo. Click here to download the Firesomething extension.

So I’m updating my page, tweaking my code, and I get this bright idea to try it in FireFox because hits to my site from FireFox browsers have increased to a whopping 18.5% and BOOOM.

I just didn’t get it. Perfectly compliant code and it won’t display properly in FireFox.

And that’s the problem. Which browser is broken? Well that depends on how you look at it. The FireFox people swear that IE is the one with the flaws. And according to Microsoft itself, the answer is that it is Internet Explorer itself that is not interpreting the code correctly. But I’ve got something to say about that.

Let’s try a small analogy. My car runs on gas. I buy that gas from the store and I’m sure it is made to some kind of standard. Now I’ve been using that gas for 10 years and it works. Now the car companies build new cars all the time, and they make sure it runs on the gas I can get at the store by my house. If cars started blowing up 18.5% of the time because of the gas, we would shut down that gas company in a matter of days. It doesn’t matter if the big gas company has made changes and is no longer making gas exactly to standard anymore, because of the number of pumps that carry it, it has become the standard.


I understand the car developers asking for the standards to be defined. I understand car makers complaining because there may be a better type of gas. I understand lawsuits, government action, and standards committees. But what I don’t get is cars that blow up. How can we tolerate that?


If the “gas” the internet runs on is our browsers and the “car companies” are the websites themselves. You can see the problem we are faced with. A standard gas is required to allow for fair competition, and Microsoft is moving in that direction (wait for IE 7). But in the meantime, it is the responsibility of the gas companies (browser manufactures – read Firefox) to make sure their products work most of the time.

I wonder how hard it would be to have a small pop-up appear in FireFox that says “this page was written using IE flaws, some items may not have displayed correctly, would you like FireFox to emulate these IE flaws?” I’d say it would be worth the time and effort. Users must be downloading FireFox and turning around to say “this browser sucks” because none of the pages they go to display properly?

Forty Four Million downloads and only 5% of people browsing are using FireFox on average? What that means to me is that lots and lots of people downloaded FireFox, but only a few zealots are still using it regularly.

I’m not sure it’s our responsibility as “car manufacturers” (web developers) to redesign our “cars” (web sites) to run on a “fuel” (browser) so that it doesn’t cause our customers to “blow up”. As the little guys, I guess that’s all we can do if we wish to support this small zealot crowd.

If you happen to be writing your own web pages I’ve got two fixes that will allow you compensate for IE’s display flaws with a minimal amount of rewriting. Write these down somewhere, because these are what made my page “Blow up” in FireFox.

  1. Padding – Microsoft seems to think padding and margins are the same thing. I never really noticed, but that seems to be the issue. The CCS standards actually say padding is outside of the “div” box and margins are inside it. Microsoft applies both inside the box. Change all of your padding to margins and most of the errors will disappear.
  2. Float tags – There is a error in IE that works like this. If you tell something to float left or right in a “div” box and then tell it to come off that same edge a bit with the margin tag. Internet Explorer only moves it double the number of pixels you asked for. Why? I have no idea, but you can fix it by adding the “display:inline;” tag right after your float statement.

I’m not going to fix the differences between Microsoft and FireFox. I’m probably not even going to come up as the person that suggested Firefox has the responsibility to accommodate it. But if you’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon this post, then you have a solution to fix your pages so the zealots can view your site the way it was intended.

I told you I don’t get it. Maybe I understand it now. But I truly don’t get why someone trying to break into the market is causing headaches for those people that make the products that their browser needs. Without the web sites, there is no need for FireFox’s browser.

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