Pioneer browser Netscape on its last leg

By : |January 31, 2008 0

BANGALORE, INDIA: It is sad but true. The browser that exposed most first-time Internet users in the mid-90s to the Internet will cease to exist from March 1.

Once the world’s most popular Web browser, Netscape’s fortunes have swung wildly through the years and its story reflects the journey of the Internet and the ups and downs of the Internet business.

The browser was first released in 1994 and then it was the software most people used to surf the Web. Before Netscape came along, the only people who could access to the Internet were those in Universities, research, the military and computer enthusiasts.

Netscape was the creation of Mosaic Communications Corporation (later named Netscape) in April 1994, by Marc Andressen and Jim Clark.

The company’s went for an IPO in 1995 and the stock value shot up to giddy heights on day one itself, starting at $14 per share and then shooting up to $75 on the first day of trading.

Netscape’s founders ensured that the browser worked on any kind of operating system and computers.

Netscape’s heady success did not escape the notice of the world’s richest software company Microsoft. Microsoft released version 1.0 of Internet Explorer as an add-on with Windows 95. The battle royale between these two companies became quite fierce and even led to Microsoft being sued by the US Department of Justice for unfair trade practices.

Microsoft subsequently improved on its future versions of Explorer and then went on to integrate Internet Explorer with Windows Operating System. This eventually led to Netscape’s falling popularity.

AOL and after

AOL purchased Netscape in 1998 for $4.2 billion, but even this couldn’t stem the rising dominance of Internet Explorer.

In November 2000, AOL released Netscape 6, based on the Mozilla 0.6 source code, which was not fully robust. This did not go well with users.

AOL also fought anti-trust cases against Microsoft and AOL filed a suit against it for damages. The case was settled in May 2003 when Microsoft paid $750 million to AOL and agreed to share some technologies, including granting AOL license to use and distribute Internet Explorer royalty-free for seven years.

While this seemed a sweet deal, it also dealt a deathly blow on Netscape. It was all downhill from then on. In July 2003, Time Warner (formerly AOL Time Warner) disbanded Netscape and most of its programmers were laid off.

However, the company released Netscape 7.2 Web browser developed by Time Warner’s team and not Netscape staff.

As of December 2006, Netscape’s market share was a pathetic 0.2 per cent penetration. The end was imminent.

This December, AOL announced that on February 1, 2008 it would drop support for the Netscape Web browser and would no longer develop new releases. This week, it was announced it Netscape’s end would come after a month.

But the legacy lives on

Just before Netscape was bought over by AOL, the company funded the creation of a non-profit outfit called the Mozilla Organisation to create open source Web software.

Mozilla released the first version of its web browser Firefox in 2004 that grew popular and is slowly but surely waging a browser war with Microsoft.

Recent market share figures put Firefox at between 16 and 27 per cent. Most of Netscape’s die-hard fans and evangelists are touting almost Biblical parallels to the rise and fall of Netscape. They hope that Mozilla would rise like a Phoenix and would prove to be a formidable force in the industry.

As a line from a super-hit film goes, "Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost!" ("The story is not over yet, my friend!")

© CyberMedia News

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