A funny thing happened in the browser wars. A young upstart came from nowhere to capture a goodly percentage of the market.

This is old news, of course. It happened a few years ago when Firefox hit a market where no market was actually seen.

Internet Explorer had crushed Netscape and that seemed the end of that. A browser was a browser was a browser, the thinking seemed to go.

Sure, lawsuits against Microsoft alleged monopolies and unfair bundling practices but most people — say like, the 90-some-odd percent of people who used IE — didn’t really give it a second thought.

But then a quirky novelty arose. Dave Hyatt and Blake Ross worked on Firefox after determining that the entire Mozilla project that it sprang from suffered from bloated mission creep.

Their premise was simple: keep it simple, keep it light, and as an open source project, developers from around the world worked to keep it just that.

Skeptics snickered though when the Mozilla Foundation kept delaying a 1.0 release. But when they finally did, the browser took off.

It was the lean, mean, anti-IE machine and has a couple hundred million downloads under its belt now.

The press fawned at all this. Forbes.com dubbed Firefox the best browser in 2004, PC World said it was the “product of the year” in 2005 and Wired made Blake Ross a coverboy around the same time.

“It’s fast, secure, open source – and super popular,” the magazine gushed. “The hot new browser called Firefox is rocking the software world. (Watch your back, Bill Gates.)”

Amazing to think that was only two years ago. And in a day and age of open source, open API’s and mashups of all sorts, Firefox can be seen as the first commercially accepted application of its kind. It looked good and played well. It didn’t look like it was by geeks, for geeks, but instead, by geeks for the rest of us.

Central to all this is Brendan Eich. He worked at Netscape during its heyday as browser of choice and invented a little something called Javascript.

When Netscape folded, Eich helped form the Mozilla Foundation from which Firefox was hatched, and from there became CTO of the Mozilla Corporation.

“I feel kind of like George Lucas,” Eich says in the video above. “I did something 11 years ago that got out of the lab. It was a monkey on my back for a while and then I went to found Mozilla.org, and did something different for a while, and now it’s huge.”

What’s huge is Javascript, once the beleagured kiddie brother to real programming languages but now the essential component to all things Ajax and therefore central to the user interactions central to Web 2.0.

Here, Eich discusses the release of Firefox 2 and its relationship with Javascript, as well as its 3-D rendering engines, next generation sessions that carry from tab to tab, and global storage that lets you share local state with other tabs or windows in order to implement applications.

Also included are discussions about virtual machines for JavaScript, both open source and in browsers.

And, of course, some thoughts about what this might all mean for the future of the Web.

Brendan Eich is best known as the inventor of JavaScript. Brendan started his career at Silicon Graphics, where he worked for seven years on the operating system and network code. Eich then went to Netscape in 1995, where he invented JavaScript for the Netscape Navigator browser. When Netscape was bought by AOL and it shut down the browser unit in July 2003, Eich moved on to the Mozilla Foundation where he works as the Chief Architect.