What makes Firefox different from other open source projects is its consumer appeal. Until now, the open source community has been very good at creating useful software but lousy at finding nontechnical users. By liberating Firefox from the "by geeks, for geeks" ethos, Ross and Goodger have moved open source out of server rooms and onto Microsoft's turf: the desktop. Borrowing from the Net-based grassroots techniques of the recent political season, the Firefox inner circle has turned satisfied users into foot soldiers and missionaries. How's this for a marketer's dream: In the weeks following the debut, Firefox contributors and fans threw their own launch parties in 392 cities around the world.
"People thought the browser wars were over," Ross says, relishing the giant-killer role. "But now there's a widespread perception that IE is not secure - and here we are." What started out as one schoolboy's exercise in minimalism, with a nod to Google's back-to-basics obsession, has tapped into a growing desire for simplicity among ordinary computer users. "The success of this thing has totally surprised us," Goodger adds. "Firefox has really touched a nerve."