RIP: AOL kills Netscape (from ComputerWorld)
I saw this news over the holidays, but didn't have an opportunity to comment on it until now. The story was inevitable, and long-rumored, but it's a little sad to see.
[Warning ... old man history rant follows ...]
The first widely used web browser was Mosaic, which was produced by some folks at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. I used that browser on Unix systems for a number of years. It was clean, simple, a little kludgy, but it got the job done. And in that era, which was the infancy of the Web, it was hard to distinguish between Mosaic and the Web.
A couple of guys at the NCSA who worked on Mosaic felt that they could actually make a living out of Web development, so they left Illinois, founded their own company, and built a new browser from scratch. The company was Netscape, and their browser was called Navigator. They sold the browser for real money ... but let educational institutions download it for free. So, I was an early user of Netscape, and I enjoyed it immensely. It was actually doing quite well commercially as well ... Mosaic wasn't available for the PC market, so Netscape had that market to itself.
And then Microsoft used its monopolistic position to crush Netscape. They built Internet Explorer, called it an "integral" part of the Windows operating system, released it for free, installed it by default on every new Windows system, and signed deals with PC manufacturers to keep them from pre-loading Netscape (or, at a minimum, keeping the icon off the desktop where IE's icon had a prominent position). Eventually, Microsoft was taken to court and lost, and had to pay off Netscape. But by then, most users had switched to IE because it was free, and Netscape had no marketplace anymore to make further revenue.
They tried for awhile to make a game of it in other areas ... portals, search engines, like that. But none of it really worked. Eventually, AOL bought out Netscape for its assets, and kept it alive as long as they could. But with marketshare for Netscape below 1%, there's really no hope for it anymore.
Thankfully, we do get to benefit from those early folks directly. Most of the work in Netscape survives today in the work of the Mozilla Foundation, which led to Firefox, Thunderbird, and a host of other open-source applications.
In the history of computing, it's often the case that the folks that revolutionize an industry end up losing out in the end. And so it is here.
Rest in peace, Netscape. You did well.