Netscape bids adieu

Most of us will remember Netscape Navigator as our first experience with the online world. Starting life as Mosaic Navigator, its creators quickly changed its name to Netscape Navigator in late 1994.

At one point in history, Netscape Navigator was the Internet for many people. In fact, in the mid-1990’s, around 90 per cent of those online used Netscape Navigator. Today, that figure is more like 1 per cent.

What happened?

Competition from Netscape’s oldest rival, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, is partly to blame, but so is a browser based on Netscape’s own source code, known as Mozilla Firefox.

In 1998, Netscape released the source code for Netscape Communicator 4.0. That helped launch the open-source Mozilla Project, which has blessed us with the wonderful Firefox browser. But by that point Microsoft was in full, all-out competition with Netscape. With the integration of Internet Explorer 4 into the Windows operating system, Microsoft firmly cemented its leading place in the browser wars. Later that same year, AOL acquired Netscape for $4.2 billion. AOL wanted less control by Microsoft. Many saw AOL’s move as an attempt to offer consumers an AOL alternative to the now firmly embedded Internet Explorer.

Unfortunately for Netscape, in 2000 they released the abysmal Netscape 6. With severe bugs and poor performance, many people finally gave up on Netscape and switched to Internet Explorer. By that time, Microsoft’s deep pockets and fierce competition had turned IE into a very decent browser. By the time a much-improved Netscape 6.1 came on the scene, the damage was already done.

There have been several releases since then. Version 7, by that point called Netscape Browser, was actually pretty good, and had some neat advances. Versions 8 and 9 were basically Netscape-branded versions of the now very popular Firefox. The buzz around Firefox, and its resulting usage was really the final nail in Netscape’s coffin. The code that created Firefox was the death of Netscape’s Browser.

On Dec 28th, AOL announced that it will cease any further development on the browser. People who stuck by Netscape will still be free to use it, but there will be no further security updates from AOL after that date.

And with that is the end of an Internet icon. Netscape, we’ll miss being mesmerized by your shooting stars while waiting for our pages to load.

Goodbye, old friend.