Netscape has quite some history behind it as a browser. Netscape started out as collaboration between Silicon Graphics founder Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen in mid-1994 to form Mosaic Communications. Mosaic Communications later went on to be renamed Netscape Communications. Andreessen had been a leader in University of Illinois in a software project called Mosaic.
With the advent of the Internet, both Jim and Marc saw the oncoming wave of the Internet, and understood that browsers would be the primary tool to access it, thus making Web-browsing software a huge potentia money-spinner. Within a brief half-year period, many of the original people from the NCSA Mosaic project were working for Netscape, and Netscape was released to the public in December 1994.
Netscape became a big success within months of its release. And some of the contributing factors to its success were the pace. with which software releases took place. New innovations and improvements were constantly being made to the browser and that made it “the” browser to browse the Internet with. Newer HTML capabilities were added with every release to Netscape and in most cases, these enhancements and improvements were much, much better than any other browser could provide at that time. By the summer of 1995, it was a good bet that if you were browsing the Internet, you were doing so with a Netscape browser—by some accounts Netscape had over 80 per cent market share, and Netscape’s browser helped cement their own dominance.
Enter Windows 95 and Internet Explorer, and Netscape met with their first worthy competitor. Microsoft made Operating Systems for a living, and browsers were a spin-off from the OS. For sometime though, Internet Explorer played second fiddle to Netscape and was always playing catch up. There were two advantages that Netscape could not deny that Microsoft had. First that Microsoft was way above Netscape in terms of market penetration, and secondly, Internet Explorer was free while Netscape was not. Netscape wanted to counter this situation in a manner that would impress its clients and in March 1996 launched Netscape 2.
Netscape 3 rolled out in August 96 at almost the same time as Internet Explorer 3.0 and this flared off a war amongst the two mammoths. Although, Netscape was still the dominant one in the browser market, Internet Explorer by then started making their first dents in the browser market and eating into the Netscape pie. One of the improvements that Netscape 3 browser boasted off was “mouseover” which means showing one image when a link is highlighted and a different one when it is not.
On the other hand, Netscape tried to add the new features on top of Netscape 3’s code engine, a decision that was to have grave consequences. Another factor was that Microsoft’s DHTML implementation was user friendly and attracted both Web designers and developers alike who could write or design programs without having to refer to textbooks. Netscape’s implementation of DHTML though remained in the realm of elite programmers who had code for lunch, dinner and sex.
The Internet in 1997 was looking up with mass sales of computers and new users wanting to hook up to the Internet. They did not want to know what software to download, what software to use as a browser; all they wanted was the Internet “installed” in the computer, for them to click on. As mentioned earlier, Microsoft was in the business of making OSes and Windows was by far the only OS that most non-geek users were happy with. With Internet Explorer being freely available along with the OS, Netscape suffered a major setback in their browser business.
These surges of new users were unburdened with the history of the WWW and along with that the existence of Netscape as a browser, and as a result Netscape came crashing down from the once dominating Internet browser market. As a last ditch effort, Netscape did away with the shareware tag and made Netscape a completely free browser killing their main source of income. However, this solution did not turn out to be Netscape’s saviour. The newer code of Netscape 4 incorporated in the Netscape 3 core started showing bugs and extremely odd ones at that.
Netscape was going down, and fast! Finally, Netscape announced that it was going open source. This was the re-birth of Mozilla as an open source project, but the deliverables were still about 4 years away, making the wait too long for most.
Currently, Netscape has been sidelined by the barrage of new browsers such as Firefox and Opera. Features such as tabbed browsing, which was the mainstay of Netscape, has found new homes in these other browsers. The current version of Netscape is 8.0.2 and is based on the Mozilla Firefox core. For now, Netscape is dependent on the Mozilla Project and the real work actually happens there rather than at Netscape. More about this when we talk about Mozilla!