How To Name A Browser By Those Who Have

I don’t know about you, but my web browser is the second app I launch every day (just after email). In fact, overall, I probably spend more time using it than pretty much anything else (not surprising considering what I do). But it got me wondering, where do the different browser names come from? So I did some digging.

Netscape Navigator

For many people, Navigator was their first web browser. It was based on the earlier Mosaic browser. I’m not 100% sure why Mosaic was so named but I suspect it was because it was the first to allow images and text to appear on the same page. Alternatively, I guess it could be some riff on the whole rich tapestry of the web. Anyway, Navigator was the first product from Netscape after it changed its name from Mosaic Communications Corporation (co-founder and co-writer of Mosaic, Marc Andreessen, had to abandon the Mosaic name after his former university raised objections). Like IE, Navigator was a pretty descriptive approach to naming.

Internet Explorer

(Technically Microsoft Internet Explorer and later Windows Internet Explorer) When you look back to 1995, having a name that gave people a clear idea of what the product did was probably a good idea. Especially when most people were just becoming aware of this Internet-thing and wanted to know how to get involved. Explorer was chosen to convey the freedom and possibilities opened up by the Web. It was very much inline with Microsoft’s former tagline, “Where do you want to go today?”

Microsoft Edge

Whilst thinking about the naming of a new browser for Windows 10, Microsoft faced a problem. On the one hand, they wanted a name to signify this was an entirely new, innovative browser. Whilst at the same time, maintaining that familiarity with the Internet Explorer customer base and their trust in Microsoft. I spoke with a handful of people who were involved in the re branding (Roger Capriotti, Divya Kumar and Jay Victor) and they, rather graciously, came back to me with the following explanation for the Microsoft Edge name:

  • Being an entirely new browser for Windows 10 devices, we needed a new name for Project Spartan (previous codename) that called it out as a new browser with new capabilities for Windows 10 users.
  • We wanted a name that conveys truths about this new browser – that it’s modern, cutting edge, innovative and performant. ‘Edge’ we believe denoted all those aspects well.
    • For web developers, it meant pushing the edge of what you can do with the modern web.
      • For end users, helping them understand that a browser can be so much more than what they use browsers for today – to help them push that edge of browsing to greater and more engaging experiences on the web.
  • Knowing the value of the Microsoft brand, we thought it should be part of the new name. People trust Microsoft – it means trustworthy, reliable and safe to them. In all our research, the addition of "Microsoft" gave most candidates a boost because of how positive and strong the Microsoft brand is.
  • ‘Edge’ was, from the start, an internal favourite, and research showed us that Microsoft + Edge was a consumer favourite as well.
  • We also wanted to keep the familiarity with Internet Explorer
    • Especially the ‘e’ IE logo because we didn’t want to strand our most loyal IE users when they upgraded to Windows 10 and would look for their browser by looking for an “e”. This is similar to how Windows 10 keeps its familiarity for Windows 7 and 8 customers.
      • Therefore, it was decided to choose a name with the letter “e” so we can maintain an “e” logo and help our large install base of IE users find their way to Microsoft Edge (by looking for an “e”) and take advantage of the new browser’s great new capabilities.

Mozilla (The people behind Firefox)

No one can claim that Mozilla took the descriptive approach. In fact Mozilla was used for some time as an internal codename for Netscape Navigator. The name was the brainchild of Jamie Zawinski and has more meaning than most people realise. Mozilla is actually a combination of “Mosaic killer” which neatly summed up their mission at the time (or so I thought). So I guess that worked out well for them. Firefox

Most people forget that Firefox wasn’t originally called Firefox at all. In fact it’s had a couple of name changes over the years. It was originally called Phoenix – presumably coming from the ashes of its predecessors. But that caused trademark issues with Phoenix Technologies. So Mozilla changed it to Firebird, which caused issues with the Firebird open source database project (there’s a pattern forming here). So, after consulting some lawyers this time, they settled on Firefox (which is actually another name for the red panda and nothing to do with any mythical bird).

Safari

Now I could go down the route of talking about Safari as fitting in with Apple’s big cat names (Panther, Lion, Snow Leopard, Tiger etc) – but I’m not certain. For the life of me, I can’t find out why Safari was chosen – although it fits in to the same general category as Explorer and Navigator (and the compass icon backs this up). My personal favourite is that in the 90's Surfing was a common verb meaning to browse the web, and being a rather cool bunch from california Apple made the link between the Beach Boys ("Surfin’ Safari")[http://www.last.fm/music/The+Beach+Boys/Surfin%27+Safari] and Surfing the Web resulting in the Safari name. The dev blog for the browser was certainly called Surfin’ Safari which does make me think it could have been the reason behind the name. If you know why it was named Safari, please drop a comment below.

Opera

Opera were kind enough to explain their naming (although the page is now only available via archive.org): The reasons the name "Opera" was chosen are several. For one, "Opera" is known as the opera all over the world. London, Paris and Moscow all have Operas, and it's one thing that has long historical roots in almost the entire world. Secondly, the Opera is associated with quality and high standards - you never hear of Opera singers who go on a drunken spree... ;-) Thirdly, the Opera is fun. (Or at least, it's meant to be for the people who don't have prejudices against it for being snobby and upper class-only.)

Chrome

While there was a codename vote early in Chrome’s development, none were finally chosen (I’d love to know what they were). Instead, it’s said by Glen Murphy that they chose Chrome because one of the design leads liked fast cars. They then ended up sticking with the codename for the final project launch because 1. they’d grown used to it, 2. they associated it with speed and, 3. because it minimised the amount of browser UI (sometimes called chrome).

While I’m missing out more than a few, that’s all the main browsers covered. If you have any insights that I’ve missed, pop them in the comments below. Also, if you know any names that didn’t make it to the final cut for any of the above, I’d love to hear about them.

Published by thebeebs

Martin has been a web developer since 2000 and now work for Microsoft as a technical evangelist.