Geek Trivia: Crazy like a (Fire)fox

What animal besides a fox did developers first consider for the basis of the Mozilla Firefox browser's logo?

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For acolytes of alternative Web browsers, February 9 marks a moderately significant anniversary—the christening of Mozilla Firefox. On Feb. 9, 2004, the browser formerly known as Firebird took on its current namesake, establishing the first foothold of a brand identity that has since taken the IT world by storm (at least by alternative browser standards).

Officially, the first version of the browser publicly dubbed Firefox was release 0.8; within the confines of the Mozilla developers groups, its codename was Royal Oak. Tracking the history of the Firefox browser, including its public and private codenames and trademarks, can be quite dizzying.

Perhaps the earliest ancestor of the Firefox software was Raptor, a demo application that shipped with early versions of the mainstream Netscape-sponsored Mozilla browser suite. When a pared-down, browser-only side project began at Mozilla, developers worked on the simply named Mozilla/browser. Based on Raptor code principles, this project gave birth to the publicly available Phoenix browser in September 2002. Then the public name changes began.

BIOS manufacturer Phoenix Technologies took issue with another software product bearing its name. On April 14, 2003, the Phoenix browser was reborn as Firebird.

Unfortunately, that name still led to marketplace confusion—this time with the Firebird database server. Less than a year later, Firebird became Firefox. That made three names in 17 months—not exactly a positive thing for a David-esque browser trying to unseat Microsoft's ubiquitous Internet Explorer Goliath.

The frequent name changes became something of a punch line among Firefox enthusiasts, a few of whom conjured up Firesomething, a Firefox extension that randomly generates a new name for the browser and inserts it into all the application's name displays.

Still, despite these early nominal stumbles, Firefox has now managed to keep its title intact for a full year. In that time, both the name Firefox and its associated icon, which features a fox wrapped around a globe, have become more recognizable and respected every day.

Of course, the Firefox logo almost didn't depict a fiery fox; the software's visual identity developers almost picked an entirely different animal for the browser's visual namesake.


What animal besides a fox did developers first consider for the basis of the Firefox Web browser's logo? Strangely enough, the red panda almost made the cut as Firefox's visual namesake.

Why the red panda? Well, the red panda is in fact a firefox, even though it's not a fox at all. Confused yet? Then it's easy to see why Mozilla decided not to use a red panda for its Firefox logo.

The red panda, Ailurus fulgens, has a direct relation to the more recognizable black-and-white giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca. However, the two creatures look almost nothing alike.

The giant panda looks like an Oreo-inspired bear, and the red panda looks more like a red-furred raccoon. This discrepancy has led to much debate over whether all pandas, red and giant, share a closer genetic affinity with either raccoons or bears—a debate that science has not yet settled.

Of course, you've probably noticed that foxes haven't even entered into the conversation. Nonetheless, red pandas do bear a certain resemblance in both size and shape to foxes and have thus earned the colloquial nickname of firefoxes. If you look up a picture of a true firefox, you'll find an image of a red panda.

And so, such was the dilemma facing the Firefox visual identity team, led by Steven Garrity: A browser suffering from naming confusion was taking its name from an animal suffering from image confusion. Thus, Garrity and his group set the true firefox aside and designed a logo based on a more conventional fox image for the Firefox browser.

The current Firefox logo, designed by Stephen Desroches, debuted at the same time as the official Firefox name—one year ago this month. Jon Hicks developed the official icons based on this logo and continues to refine them, and he actively blogs about the subject.

Will Firefox still be Firefox a year from now, and will its logo remain the same? No one can say for sure, but the answers are certain to make for some great Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week, we have two quibbles, both of which offer updates to the Jan. 26 edition of Classic Geek Trivia, "Wide loads kept low," which discussed the Russian/Ukrainian Antonov AN-225 heavy cargo plane, the largest aircraft to have flown more than once.

TechRepublic member Borgesen explained that the AN-225 is no longer languishing in retirement.

"According to the Antonov Airline home page, the AN-225 has been restored and is now on active duty—amongst other projects, it has flown relief material to the tsunami disaster area."

TechRepublic member Kretz shared some additional data about the largest active duty plane ever built.

"The AN-225 was used earlier this month to transport a 75-ton mobile water purification system from Dubai to Singapore, where it was transferred by ship to Indonesia for use in the Tsunami relief effort."

For more, check out the Geek Trivia Archive.

The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.