The man who didn't let AOL kill Firefox

Tomorrow, Netscape is officially dead: AOL is ending support for the venerable browser. But its offspring, Firefox, is thriving. Both Netscape and Firefox had several brushes with death. In 1998, "Microsoft was driving their monster truck after us and they were about to pin us to the wall," former Netscape software engineer Brendan Eich recently told the San Francisco Chronicle. Before that could happen, however, Netscape execs James Barksdale, Eric Hahn, Mike Homer and cofounder Marc Andreessen decided to open the browser's source code to the community. Behold, Mozilla. But the organization wasn't independent of Netscape owner AOL yet. And here's a shocker, AOL executives nearly killed Mozilla through neglect. So who saved the baby?

Eich credits Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus. The story goes that around the turn of the century, AOL agreed to spin off the Mozilla Foundation, but only wanted to fund it with a "get lost package," according to the Chronicle.

Eich says that Kapor, himself a victim of the Microsoft hegemony, leaned on a friend, AOL exec Ted Leonsis, to get the Mozilla Foundation a better sendoff. Eventually AOL agreed to set up the foundation with $2 million. It was enough to keep Mozilla alive and thriving.

Now, Mozilla's browser Firefox owns around 16 percent market share and Mozilla is more profitable than its new CEO would like you to think about.