Netscape (1994 – 2017): Remembering the once World’s Best Web Browser

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What hits your mind when you hear the mention of the word “Nestcape”? Myself, am always hit with strong nostalgic memories of the good old days when Netscape ruled the web, right from the its simply awesome web-browser to the Netscape navigator.

Netscape had a wide range of products right from browsers to mail servers and news group. Let’s explore the history of this internet giant of the 90s.

Brief History of Netscape

Netscape Communications Corporations was an independent American computer services firm, based in Mountain view, California and later on in Dulles, Virginia. It used to be a dominant internet browser, but lost its market share over 90 percent to Internet Explorer and other rivals in the first “Browser Wars”.
The company also developed SSL to secure online communication before TLS took over as its successor. In February 1998, approximately a year before purchasing AOL, Netscape released a source code of the browser and developed the Mozilla Organization in order to manage potential product development.

Netscape stock traded from 1995 to 1999 when its business was purchased in a pooling deal worth $10 billion dollars. In early 2000s, when AOL increased its involvement with Mozilla Organization, they moved on to set up the Mozilla Foundation in July 2002 so as to keep it independent of financial aid from AOL. The Mozilla Firefox browser is powered by the Gecko engine.

Development of the Netscape browser continued until AOL terminated its support in early 2008. AOL continued using the name Netscape throughout 2011 as a marketing strategy for its ISP business.

Later on, AOL had to rename the Netscape Communications Corporation to New Aurora Corp. and passed the Netscape brand to themselves. Shortly after, AOL sold Nescape to Microsoft who later sold it to Facebook. The New Aurora Corp. now remains a non-operation subsidiary of Facebook. Netscape is today a brand name belonging to Verizon which is a subsidiary of Verizon Comm.

Netscape Navigator: The Rise and Fall
Photo Courtesy: Version Museum
Do you remember the Netscape Navigator and the browsers wars of the 90s?

Netscape tried to take over the World Wide Web as we knew it in the 90s. It was a project by Jim Clark who later on invited Marc Andreessen and Kleiner Perkins as investors. Netscape was crated under the name Mosaic Communications Corporation.

The trio had initially planned to create something that would give Nintendo a run for their money. Hence the recruitment of members from SGI and NCSA Mosaic. Jim and Clark initially had a concept pitch for design of an online gaming Nintendo network.

They later moved on to develop the Mosaic Netscape 0.9 towards the end of 1995. This was their first product. It took three-quarters of the browsers market within four months of its release and since it was ignored by other competitors it slowly became the largest internet browser in a short period.

It was later named Netscape Navigator, a name coined by Greg Sands which was also a trademark of Cisco Systems. The web browser of Mosaic Netscape did not use any NCSA Mosaic code. Mozilla, wo was the Mosaic Killer was the intern code for the company’s browser, since its goal was to move the company’s browser to be the top browser.

It is because of this that the Mozilla mascot was prominently featured in the early years of Netscape’s website. The need to portray a more “professional” image (particularly for its corporate clientele) led to its elimination.

I recall it very well, its like yesterday. Back then when Netscape navigator was the world’s leader in the Web. In the 90s, no one was able to beat Netscape. Or so it seemed. Have you ever wondered why Netscape navigator was so popular back in the days? And what happened to this browser?

The internet has been here since 1960s, but it began gaining traction in personal computers in the 90s. This is the period that witnessed rapid growth in the computer industry. The Silicon Valley was buzzing with activities as tech companies were established every day.

Back then, there were several browsers that you could use to access the internet, but Netscape stood out. It was the most popular browser at the time. I would say it was popular because of its revolutionary features that we still use today like cookies, and JavaScript. The ability to access page content even before the entire page has loaded was another unique feature of Netscape that made people fall in love with it. This feature made it show content to the users faster than other browsers hence offering users a significantly enhanced internet experience.

In the next few years after its launch and gaining popularity, Netscape continued to dominate the browsers industry while it continued developing its browser, but there was a cloud over the company.

As the Microsoft Windows PC became more popular, more users were made to use Internet Explorer (IE) by default. Netscape was not pleased by this. They weren’t disappointed by the competition posed by Microsoft, but by the fact that Microsoft was forcing users to use IE just by the mere fact that they are using the Microsoft Windows Operating system. This was considered an unfair advantage.

Microsoft included Internet Explorer in all copies of Windows that were shipped in the period, and most users did not feel like using any other browser as they never really had to make a choice since the one that comes default was serving them. This obviously leads to a fairly unequal fight and it is partly because of this that Netscape began losing its user base.
Through the mid to late 90s, Microsoft continued to push the integrations and promotion of its IE. At some point, Microsoft integrated IE to service provider’s bundles, which pushed Netscape even further leading to its demise.

Sadly, the browser wars did not end with the death of Netscape Navigator, It only intensified. Until this day, the wars are still on with browsers like Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, Maxthon and Safari fighting for some share on the web. This rivalry encourages creativity and gives the users some options to choose from. Netscape Navigator was a beast back in the ‘90s, and it demands our reverence for being an original trendsetter. Unfortunately, Netscape can never recover its position on the web because of the new and upcoming browsers. Plus, the fact that the project is not longer funded, but it is still recognized as an important part of the history of the internet. Even in its death, Netscape Navigator remains one of the coolest browsers I have ever used in my time.

The Small Wins of Netscape: Other related Products.
Netscape’s success and popularity back in the 90s can be attributed to the success of a number of products developed by Netscape.

Firstly, the browser could not work without other products like Operating system e.g. Windows, Mac, or Unix. While the functionality required to run the browser is provided by all the 3 major Operating Systems, the actual performance needs to be estimated on a scale. The faster the Netscape browser could operate in all the scales, the better. These were the small wins that made Netscape stand out from other browsers. Netscape had a higher score on speed, interoperability, compatibility, expandability etc. Making it automatically to grab the top browser title back then.

Secondly, Netscape development owes a lot to complementary plug-ins from inside the browser. Some systems with their own internet interface have historically been related Netscape e.g., gopher and FTP which were at the time executed from a command prompt (for Unix, Windows & Mac). New users today don’t even know that Netscape existed.

The success of Netscape was due to the many multimedia plug-in applications that offered the browser enhanced multimedia. Video, audio, animation, virtual reality and image files comprising several types of files, such as RealAudio, Shockwave, Media Player and Voxwsware Toolbox were also supported as plugins.

Many of these applications seek to improve the experience of a user, regardless of his browser preference. Although Netscape undoubtedly profits from this arrangement, the best version of this additional partnership exists when Netscape’s browser Apps are exclusively built. For example, if Netscape was the only browser with a plug-in to allow users to read aloud text on the user’s computer, those who were keen to use Netscape as their browser would go for it because of that particular feature.

Lastly, several features that could be access via Netscape can be regarded as product complementary. The Netscape browser provided only few features, such as chat rooms, internet telephony, guestbooks, stock portfolios, date matching, java applets and e-commerce features. It was designed in a manner that the more people who used Netscape, the more resources were made available for it on the browser, hence it was favorited by many developers and gathered more positive reviews in return.

Why Netscape dominated the browser Market back in the 90s.
The initial dominance of the browser industry by Netscape can be attributed to many strategic decisions made by the company at the time:

Wide distribution – the browser was widely distributed on the web. The company’s decision oto openly share its browser over the internet was the sole reason for its widespread use back in the 90s. It was shipped over the web in the mi-90s. Downloading the browser was free, allowing anybody with internet access too try it out.

Netscape’s business plan – Netscape business model at the time comprised of direct sales to the Fortune 100 companies and deals with numerous OEM companies such as Compaq, IBM, HP, Sun, and Digital.

Vast experience in Product distribution – Netscape corporation had a track history of successful product distribution strategies. All they did was to tap into this network in order to move the Netscape Navigator to its already wide user base.

Foresighted founders – the founders of the Netscape realized that the gains of the potential benefits of the browser was not much on the immediate benefits of the browser but more about the future integration with fast growing internet infrastructure and the growing Apps Market. They were actually investing in the future. In this sense, the company had gained from its initial success by expanding its product line with the full range of clients, servers, production tools, and commercial apps.

Final Thoughts

I still believe that the success of Netscape Navigator was great, even if it did not last for that long in the web. Netscape revolutionized the internet as we know it today and contributed a lot in the shaping of the then future of browsing. If it were not for Netscape, we would not be enjoying the flexibility, compatibility and the ton of features offered by Chrome, Firefox and its counterparts.

By publishing open standards and building synergistic collaborations, Netscape promoted “cooperation” which is the core of the new developers today. This helped to quickly broaden the browser’s market, providing the consumers with numerous complementary products and boosting demand and spread of the entire internet. Something that is still beneficial to the web developers today.

In as much as the web development industry has evolved so much, developers today are still borrowing such project development examples from Netscape. This simply means that Netscape will live forever.

What memories about Netscape Navigator do you hold dear?

Did you get a chance to use Netscape back in the 90s? How so you compare it to the latest browsers?



Omega Geeze
Jul 13, 2019
Oh man Netscape is prehistoric! I think my high school still had it installed for some reason lmao.
  • Haha
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