eWEEK 30: Netscape Navigator Web Browser Introduces Millions to Web Surfing

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

The "major leap in Internet usage" that Andreessen foretold was the beginning of the glory days of the dot-com era.

The success of the Netscape browser in 1994, as well as some legal issues surrounding the use of the name Mosaic, led Mosaic Communications to rename itself Netscape Communications on Nov. 14, 1994.

That year, Netscape was the unchallenged leader of the browser world and it undoubtedly was the catalyst that enabled the early growth of the Web in that era. Beyond just providing a view of the World Wide Web, Netscape engineers developed enhancements to the HTML specification that enabled new page layout formats. The Netscape 1.1 release of April 1995 introduced the world to the HTML concept of Tables, which served as the defining element of all Web page layouts for the following decade.

The summer of 1995 marked both the high point for Netscape's market success as well as the beginning of the end. In one of the most active initial public offerings of all time, Netscape went public Aug. 9, 1995. Netscape shares hit $75 on the first day, up from the initial offering price of $28 a share, making Andreessen into an instant multi-millionaire and kicking off the dot-com boom era.

The summer of 1995 also marked the debut of Microsoft's belated response to Netscape's astounding success with its innovative Web browser with the release of Windows 95. Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) browser was part of an additional package for Window 95, known as Plus.

This marked the start of the browser wars that would ultimately bring down Netscape and would provide one of the fundamental issues that would embroil Microsoft in years of antitrust litigation. The war began with Netscape and Microsoft jostling for attention with each new release of their respective browsers.

While HTML standards ostensibly were already in place, the truth was that each browser vendor was advancing its own version of standards. As a result, developers often had to build different versions of their site to suit the different browser or simply just had to conform to the practice of using the lowest common denominator for common features and HTML usage across both the browsers.

This was a costly and time-consuming process that sometimes delayed the release of Web applications and often forced developers and users to choose sides in the war.

In June 1997, Netscape rolled out the Netscape Communicator 4.0 suite, which included email and calendar applications alongside the Navigator browser. Microsoft responded with Windows 98, which for the first time fully integrated the IE browser into the operating system. For many users of that era, seeing the "big blue E" on their Windows desktop was the Internet, and it was the factor that ended Netscape's reign as the dominant Web browser and eventually as an independent company.

Netscape's fall from prominence didn't happen in isolation; it was an act that came about through a deliberate series of Microsoft market actions. In May 1998, the U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft which charged among many other things that Microsoft acted illegally to end Netscape's dominance as the most widely used Web browser and to prevent other browsers from gaining significant market share.


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