Netscape navigating the World Wide Web no more

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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Wikipedia home page as viewed on a Netscape browser.

AOL has decided to discontinue development of the Netscape web browser which brought surfing the Internet to the masses, until its user base began to erode during the "browser wars" of the mid-1990s and resulted in the birth of Mozilla project.

Tom Drapeau, the director of Netscape inside AOL announced on the Netscape blog that support for the recently released Netscape Navigator 9 and all of Netscape's browsers back to version 1.0, will end because it was unable to gain market share and a low number of users that continues to dwindle. Drapeau noted, "AOL's focus on transitioning to an ad-supported web business leaves little room for the size of investment needed to get the Netscape browser to a point many of its fans expect it to be," and that "the success the Mozilla Foundation has had in developing critically-acclaimed products, we feel it's the right time to end development of Netscape branded browsers, hand the reins fully to Mozilla and encourage Netscape users to adopt Firefox."

Netscape's origins lie at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where Netscape's co-founders, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina wrote their first copy of NCSA Mosaic which became the first popular web browser and opened up the web for the first time to the general public and started the rise of the Internet in everyday life.

Andreessen along with Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, started the Mosaic Communications Corporation and released their first product Mosaic Netscape 0.9 in October 1994. A month later the company became the name it is today, the Netscape Communications Corporation to avoid legal problems from NCSA. A year later, had a successful IPO on August 9, 1995 and the stock closed the day at $75.

Netscape's early success and virtual monopoly of the browser market was short-lived however as Microsoft viewed Netscape's idea of a consistent browser across various operating systems a threat and quickly began development of its own browser, Internet Explorer.

This competition between Netscape and Microsoft became known as the browser wars, where both companies tried to outdo each other with their increasingly unstable browsers including: new features that did not always work, not providing bug fixes, deviating from Web standards (including the infamous <blink> and <marquee> HTML tags), program crashes and security holes.

Cquote1.svg ...the success the Mozilla Foundation has had in developing critically-acclaimed products, we feel it's the right time to end development of Netscape branded browsers, hand the reins fully to Mozilla and encourage Netscape users to adopt Firefox. Cquote2.svg

—Tom Drapeau, Netscape Director

By the end of 1997, Netscape's glory had run out and it experienced it's first bad quarter, which resulted in layoffs in January 1998. The new year also brought the world with the arrival of what would eventually become Mozilla and later Firefox, when Netscape decided to make the source code for their browser open source. A year later, Netscape was out of steam and was no longer an independent company but now a subsidiary of America Online.

The most recent version of the Netscape browser, Navigator 9, was for the most part was a re-skinned version of Firefox developed internally by a small group of people inside AOL. Netscape's actual browser development division was closed back in July 2003 and the workers laid off.

However, AOL continues to run Netscape as a brand including a web portal, including a Digg-like social news aggregator which was branded as Netscape.com from June 2006 till September 2007, when it was spun off into a renamed site called Propeller. Netscape.com is now a dually branded AOL Netscape web portal, which is a duplicate of AOL.com. Netscape is also used as a brand by AOL as a low-cost dial-up Internet service provider.

Firefox's third version is currently available as a beta and Microsoft is expected to release Internet Explorer 8 sometime in 2008.


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