End of an Era: Netscape Browser Lain to Rest

End of an Era: Netscape Browser Lain to Rest

By Nathan Statz

January 2, 2007: It’s been around since 1994 and played a major part in shaping the years of explosive Internet growth that laid the foundations for this century’s years of online prosperity, but the AOL-acquired Netscape Navigator browser is finally being killed off with the news that support and development will be cut off in February.

In today’s browser-fed society names like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and the mobile-dominant Opera are far more commonplace then the dying Netscape browser, however there was a time when Netscape Navigator was the most dominant browser in the industry. This era is drawing to an official close as the browser has been struggling to the point of becoming a non-factor in the modern age.

“While internal groups within AOL (America On-Line) have invested a great deal of time and energy in attempting to revive Netscape Navigator, these efforts have not been successful in gaining market share from Microsoft's Internet Explorer.” said Tom Drapeau, Director at Netscape in the company’s official blog.

Staff have been leaving the Netscape Browser project en masse for a while now, most of which have been scooped up by the Mozilla Foundation to work on their Firefox product. It’s no surprise that the AOL-owned Netscape has been encouraging staff to move across to the vastly more successful Firefox browser, as AOL helped get the Mozilla foundation off the ground with a $US 2 Million donation over two years back in 2003.

“Given AOL's current business focus and the success the Mozilla Foundation has had in developing critically-acclaimed products, we feel it's the right time to end development of Netscape branded browsers, hand the reins fully to Mozilla and encourage Netscape users to adopt Firefox.” said Drapaeu

In reality this means that security patches and product updates will be discontinued after February 1st with no plans for any further support or new versions being released. While users can continue to use the Netscape Browser beyond this date, it’s expected that compatability and security issues will eventually force even the most stalwart nostalgic users to change browsers. Drapaeu points out that there is a Netscape themed skin that can be downloaded for Firefox if users want to preserve that Netscape feeling.

How far the Mighty have Fallen

The year was 1994 when Dr. James H. Clark and Marc Andreesen put the dollars behind the Mosaic Communications Corporation who started out by using a Mosaic based platform to come up with their first web browser. The company would later rename to Netscape Communications and their flagship browser would become the Netscape Navigator.

The explosion of interest in Netscape Navigator came at the same time that usage of the Internet as a popular medium was expanding. Net café’s, libraries, school’s, business and home users alike were all rushing to get their hands on Navigator and see what all the hype around the internet was really about.

Their clear dominance of the market would come into problems in 1995 when the entrance of the little known Internet Explorer (IE) by the force that was Microsoft entered the market and the first browser war began. Microsoft was quick to use their monstrous advantage of pre-packaging all copies of windows with their Internet Explorer browser and although this wouldn’t see immediate results, it laid the groundwork for the company to muscle their way into the browser scene.

Prior to 1998, IE had managed to muscle their way to 18% market share compared to Netscape’s still dominant 72%, but that was also the year that Microsoft pushed out IE 4.0, a much faster and compatible browser then Netscape’s Navigator 4.0 which combined with the financial resources of the Redmond based software giant, would spell the end of Netscape’s former dominance.

Times Change

More then 13 years ago Netscape announced that their Netscape Navigator browser was going free for personal use and US $99 (AUS $113) for commercial users, the announcement was heralded in an era of the companies supreme confidence in its explosive growth in the market.

"Netscape is the first Internet tool that lets the average user with a 14.4 kb modem work with the Internet interactively," said Todd Haedrich, principal of Point of Presence Company in Seattle in the accompanying press release in 1994.

14.4 kb is almost an alien term in regards to internet connection speeds now, where broadband has become the staple diet and dial-up modems looked on as relics of a bye-gone era, despite the still significant level of users who dial in with them every day.

While the dream may be dead for the production team of engineers and programmers who were still fueling the Netscape crusade, it’s a browser that won’t soon be forgotten for those that still remember that first browser war.

"Netscape will help bring more people on the Internet than any program since the original NCSA Mosaic." said Haedrich in 1994.

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