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Column: Mozilla's Boston tea party

Will Mozilla and its Firefox browser be the belles of the LinuxWorld ball? Site expert Nigel McFarlane thinks so.

It's LinuxWorld time again, and the Cinderella story that is Mozilla and its supermodel Firefox browser are likely to be at the center of the geek heat. Firefox is this year's poster-child of the open source movement, in case you hadn't noticed.

Why Firefox? Well, it's extensible, more so that other browsers. It's portable across platforms: Windows, Linux and Mac. It's got a huge and pro-active user community, in case you need a hand. All together, this is a high value bundle of browser culture.

Then, there are the raw numbers, always a favorite pastime of reporters when crowds gather. Already the number of Firefox users exceeds the population of the whole New York metropolitan area (22 million). Never mind a "New York State Of Mind" (with apologies to Billy Joel, as we hear he's back in); a Firefox state of mind is more likely to be your muse these days. Most nations in the world are smaller than the current Firefox user base.

Last year, the Mozilla booth at LinuxWorld did a brisk trade in T-shirts and other merchandise. We hope that in Boston, with Firefox front and center in the public eye, that Mozilla Foundation volunteers and luminaries are fully braced for the fan onslaught. Every badge and every shirt is another barrel of Microsoft Internet Explorer tea sent overboard. It's still a revolution, baby.

Really, it's the Cinderella side of Mozilla that ensures its prominence at LinuxWorld. Recall, if you will, the substance of that story: a young lady sweats and toils at the fireplace while ugly relatives please themselves without assisting. With the help of a convenient fairy, she gives them the slip, and turns up at the ball. Is it the dress? Is it the shoes? Whatever! She wows them all, snags the prince and the rest is history.

Firefox's neat packaging and smooth user interface are Mozilla's ball gown and shoes, and the Mozilla folks have certainly toiled hard for a few years to get to this point. Any princes snagged are well deserved.

If that were all, Firefox would be a fading star by now. After all, a girl once kissed is somehow not the same afterwards; princes are possessive, and Firefox has already had her debut. That would be the old-fashioned reading of the matter. But these are modern times, and there's another point of view.

Cleaning a fireplace is a pretty hard and boring job. A girl needs something -- a lot of things -- to keep her mind occupied. Never mind the fantasies. How about something practical? Those sisters of yours probably get on your back a fair chunk of the time as well. It's all very well, positively affirming their inner beauty and the sisterhood by taking on more chores to balance out the unfairly distributed gift of good looks, but eventually there's going to be more than enough of that.

And this is the story of Firefox -- the girl who knows how to party. She's all pent up and ready to go. All that time in the cinders was spent planning. We already see Firefox and Mozilla spreading to portable USB distributions, to Microsoft Installer versions (MSIs), to a variety of custom builds, to embedded systems and more. She's glammed up with hundreds of accessories and the IT guys at LinuxWorld will be lining up for the next dance.

Nigel McFarlane is a programmer, site expert and author of several IT books. His newest book is the upcoming Firefox Hacks from O'Reilly.

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