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Mozilla will today launch the nearly-final version of Firefox, its open source web browser, ahead of the 1.0 product launch on 9 November. The organisation says it aiming for 10 million downloads in the 100 days after inauguration, sparking much discussion of a return to the days of the browser wars, when Microsoft, AOL and Netscape battled for market share.

Bart Decrem, spokesman for Mozilla, was in London last Friday to promote the browser. He noted: "When you look at how many people are downloading Firefox already, the 10m downloads target starts to feel very safe."

But despite the fighting talk, Decrem argues that Firefox isn't about taking back 80 per cent of the web, but about "preserving meaningful choice" on the internet: "One of our goals for the next year is to have 10 per cent of the market, but it is more about momentum than absolute market share."

He says that since IE so conclusively won the browser war, the product has barely changed. "It has stagnated," he said. "CSS, for example, is poorly supported, and web developers have been stuck a box. We need to bring back choice, which will stimulate innovation."

Decrem also predicts Mozilla will ink some deals with OEMs over the next year: "We will see OEMs deploying Firefox to users, perhaps as the default, but certainly as a secondary browser. It makes business sense because every time there is a bug or a security problem in IE, OEMs are bombarded with calls from their customers."

But its main focus over the next year will be on developing Firefox as a consumer product, and the Thunderbird email client.

"The sequence is that we get Firefox 1.0 out the door, hopefully with some positive word of mouth. Then we can look at ways of further improving the product," Decrem says. "As we get more into the mainstream, certainly things like ease of use become more and more important."

As more people start to use what Decrem calls "modern web browsers", like Opera, Netscape, Safari and Firefox, web developers will start to design pages that take advantage of, for example, better CSS support. Then, Microsoft will be forced to update IE, which "will be very good news for IE users".

There are signs that this is happening already - for example in an update to IE in SP2 blocks popups, which, Decrem says, shows that "Microsoft is paying attention".

But surely the last thing Mozilla wants is to make Microsoft pay very close attention to what it is doing. After all, we've been here before, and it didn't end well for Netscape.

Decrem concedes that the idea of having Microsoft coming after Mozilla is not a pleasant one, but argues that the landscape has changed considerably since the late 90's. As well as regulatory changes, he points to the broad community support the Firefox product has. Over 6,000 people have donated money to the organisation's bid to buy a full-page ad in the New York Times, celebrating the launch of Firefox, something Decrem says is hard to see happening in response to a new release from Microsoft.

"When Netscape open sourced its code in 1998, it was about inviting the world in. Firefox is fulfilling that goal. Microsoft can't compete with this sense of community, because people feel like they own a piece of Firefox."

As to why Firefox is doing so well - the previous release saw five million downloads in the first month - Decrem says it is an expression of support for the open source movement. He argues that there is a slice of the web community that likes the idea and the ideals of open source, but is not technically minded enough to run Linux.

"These people see Firefox as the open source thing they be a part of," he concludes. ®

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