AOL torpedoes Netscape Navigator

Let us all bow in respect as we bid Netscape Navigator goodbye forever.  Yes, the aging browser that once captured the hearts of young netizens everywhere will finally be taken off life support on February 1, 2008.  Downloads of the old versions will still be available, but they will not be supported and no security or other updates will be provided.

Of course, Netscape’s demise does not come suddenly.  Even though it was estimated to hold almost 90% of the browser market in April 1996, by the end of 2005 this had fallen to less than 2% — thanks mostly to the aggressive positioning of Internet Explorer by Microsoft.  Not only did Microsoft bundle the browser with Windows, they made many parts of the OS dependent upon IE and introduced “innovations” that required the use of IE for many web pages.  Besides that, in an effort to keep up with the features being added to IE, the quality of the Netscape browser suffered — and users became more and more frustrated with using it.  Even users who preferred Netscape eventually gave up the fight in order to have a more seamless experience on Windows.  Microsoft eventually lost an antitrust suit and agreed to pay AOL $750 million in a settlement, but the damage to Netscape Navigator was irreversible.

The good news is, Firefox remains strong as the browser of choice for geeks, and increasingly for normal people as well.   For those who don’t know the history, the Mozilla browser began as an open-source rewrite of the Netscape Communicator browser in 1998, the year in which AOL also acquired Netscape.   The code was rewritten again by the Mozilla Foundation to produce the first version of Firefox.   Since Netscape version 8, the Netscape browser has also been based on Firefox.

I remember the first time I used a Netscape browser back in late 1994 when it was still in beta under the name “Mosaic”.  Bill Mooney and Scott Luttgen came over to my house, and Bill had a disk in his possession.  We installed it on my 486-25 running Windows 3.1, connected via his Netcom account, and got our first glimpse of the World Wide Web.  “This could catch on,” I thought — even though the web at that time was pretty sparsely populated.  Later, I used Netscape Navigator 2.0 as my browser and only reluctantly left Netscape for Internet Explorer after the release of Netscape Communicator, which gummed the whole thing up as far as I was concerned.

For the truly nostalgic (or Luddite) who want a supported browser that looks and feels like Netscape, you can download the Netstripe add-on for Firefox.  This extension packages the Netscape Navigator default theme for Firefox.