eWEEK 30: Netscape Navigator Browsers Introduces Millions to Web Surfing

By Sean Michael Kerner  |  Posted 2013-12-10 Print this article Print

While the legal motions were getting started, Netscape itself was going through a very different transition. In February 1998, Netscape created the Mozilla Project as the open-source home for its browser efforts. Time has proven that this act has preserved the initial technology promise of Netscape, to make the Web a better place for users and commerce alike.

In November 1998, AOL announced its intention to acquire Netscape for $4.2 billion, ending Netscape's existence as an independent company. It wasn't actually until January 2002, that Netscape itself would directly sue Microsoft, based on the same claims of anti-competitive behavior that were the basis of the U.S. government's antitrust case.

The acquisition of Netscape by AOL wasn't seen as being particularly positive by those within Mozilla at the time. An essay written by Mozilla staffer Jamie Zawinski summed up the feelings of the day. Its title was "Fear and Loathing on the Merger Trail."

"Some people have the impression that the Mozilla agenda is set by Netscape, and to some extent, that is true because Netscape is paying more than a hundred people's full-time salaries to work on the Mozilla code base—and to give their code away," Zawinski wrote.

Zawinski added that it would be hard to imagine that AOL would have "the intention of turning Netscape into something that it is not; it's hard to imagine that they would spend $4 billion on Netscape just to throw away the client."

Yet, with history as our guide, that is precisely what happened. Over time, AOL's interest in Netscape diminished, while Mozilla's own star began to rise. In 2003, Mozilla got its own foundation, entirely independent of AOL and helped to begin yet another era of browser innovation that continues to this day with the Firefox Web browser. Not coincidentally, 2003 is also the year that AOL settled with Microsoft for $750 million.

The advent of Firefox set off yet another round of the browser wars that continued until rulings in the antitrust litigation ensured that Windows users could more easily define a browser that opened by default whenever they clicked on a Web link. Those rulings and the evolution of cloud computing reduced Internet Explorer's dominance and gave competing browsers—including Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, Opera and others—a chance to win adherents.

The fact remains that AOL didn't officially "throw away" the Netscape Navigator Web browser until years later when in 2007 they finally admitted the obvious and declared the Netscape browser dead.

But Netscape's epitaph was written long before that date. In 1999, eWEEK ran an article quoting Oracle CEO Larry Ellison that sums up the fall of Netscape.

"Bill Gates said he was going to put Netscape out of business, and he did," Ellison said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.



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