Obituary

by Joe Gillespie — Aug 1, 2003

Netscape Browser

Yet another one bites the dust.

Since my article about the demise of Internet Explorer for Mac last month, this month's victim is even more significant – Netscape is no more! AOL Time Warner has signed a new deal with Microsoft to continue using IE as the official AOL browser and the plug has been pulled on its own browser, Netscape. The development team has been laid off.

Netscape was the first mass-marker browser, having evolved from a NCSA student project, Mosaic. Initially, you had to pay for Netscape Navigator but when Microsoft Internet Explorer arrived on the scene for free, Netscape had to give up charging. They could afford to give the browser away as their main income was from server-side applications but with Explorer being pre-installed on every new PC, it was already too late. Netscape would never recover.

AOL eventually bought Netscape but they never used their own browser. They preferred to bundle Explorer, and with their brand leading market position, helped to cement IE's dominance. The Netscape browser continued development in parallel with Mozilla but its market share was gradually eroded to a few percentage points.

Despite the demise of Netscape, Mozilla will continue to be developed under the auspices of the Mozilla Foundation. Although it was previously announced that Mozilla 1.4 would be the final incarnation before splitting up into a number of smaller browser projects (Firebird, Thunderbird and Camino), I see that there is now a Mozilla 1.5 alpha available.

So, Internet Explorer has effectively wiped the floor with the competition even though it is the oldest and least standards compliant browser around – which just proves the old adage, you can fool all of the people some of the time. Netscape 7 and Mozilla 1.4 are much more advanced browsers offering tighter security, better rendering, automatic popup ad blocking, built-in Web page editing plus a host of other advantages. They are also completely cross platform. Regardless of all the advantages, they don't come pre-installed on new PCs and that is the crunch. Most computer users just accept what's there and if it's 'good enough', see little point in changing.

High powered inertia!

The problem is that Explorer is unlikely to have a significant facelift until the next version of Windows (Longhorn) is introduced – which is still several years off.

In the meantime, all the little fellows – Opera, Safari, Camino, Firebird, et al – are going to progress along Web standards paths but with relatively few dedicated followers.

The bad news for Web designers is that they are still going to be stuck with finding workarounds for the quirks and bugs in IE for the foreseeable future.

From a promising start, Netscape had a hard life. May it now rest in peace!

P.S. It won't stay dead!

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