Netscape Navigator

Netscape Navigator

Netscape Navigator and Netscape are the names for the proprietary web browser popular in the 1990s, and the flagship product of the Netscape Communications Corporation, and the dominant web browser in terms of usage share. Yet by 2002 its users had almost disappeared, partly because of Microsoft's bundling (inclusion) of its Internet Explorer web browser software with the Windows operating system software (both Microsoft products), and partly because Netscape corporation did not sustain Netscape Navigator's technical innovation after the late 1990s.

The business demise of Netscape was a central premise of Microsoft's antitrust trial, wherein, the Court ruled that Microsoft corporation's bundling of Internet Explorer with the Windows operating system was monopolistic, an illegal business practice.

The Netscape Navigator web browser was succeeded by the Netscape Communicator internet suite, in turn succeeded by Netscape 6, Netscape 7, and Netscape Browser 8. On 1 May 2007, the resurrection of the Netscape Navigator name would be Netscape Navigator 9.

AOL formally stopped development of Netscape Navigator on 28 December 2007, but continued supporting the web browser with security updates until 1 February 2008, then extended until 1 March 2008, when AOL canceled technical support, yet permits user-downloading of archived versions of the Netscape Navigator web browser family. Moreover, AOL maintains the Netscape website as an Internet portal.

History and development

The creation

One of the central figures in the Netscape story is Marc Andreessen, cofounder of Netscape Communications Corporation and co-author of Mosaic at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

After his graduation from Illinois in 1993, Andreessen moved to California to work at Enterprise Integration Technologies. Andreessen then met with Jim Clark, the recently-departed founder of Silicon Graphics. Clark believed that the Mosaic browser had great commercial possibilities and provided the seed money. Soon Mosaic Communications Corporation was in business in Mountain View, California, with Andreessen appointed as a vice-president. The University of Illinois was unhappy with the company's use of the Mosaic name, so "Mosaic Communications Corporation" changed its name to Netscape Communications (thought up by sales representative Greg Sands) and its flagship web browser was the Netscape Navigator.

Netscape announced in its first press release (October 13, 1994) that it would make Navigator freely available to all non-commercial users, and Beta versions of version 1.0 and 1.1 were indeed freely downloadable in November 1994 and March 1995, with the full version 1.0 available in December 1994. Netscape's initial corporate policy regarding Navigator is interesting, as it claimed that it would make Navigator freely available for non-commercial use in accordance with the notion that internet software should be distributed for free.

However, within 2 months of that press release, Netscape apparently reversed its policy on who could freely obtain and use version 1.0 by only mentioning that educational and non-profit institutions could use version 1.0 at no charge.

The reversal was complete with the availability of version 1.1 beta on March 6, 1995, in which a press release states that the final 1.1 release would be available at no cost only for academic and non-profit organizational use. Gone was the notion expressed in the first press release that Navigator would be freely available in the spirit of internet software.

The first few releases of the product were made available in "commercial" and "evaluation" versions; for example, version "1.0" and version "1.0N". The "N" evaluation versions were completely identical to the commercial versions; the letter was there to remind people to pay for the browser once they felt they had tried it long enough and were satisfied with it. This distinction was formally dropped within a year of the initial release, and the full version of the browser continued to be made available for free online, with boxed versions available on floppy disks (and later CDs) in stores along with a period of phone support. Email support was initially free, and remained so for a year or two until the volume of support requests grew too high.

During development, the Netscape browser was known by the code name Mozilla, which became the name of a Godzilla-like cartoon dragon mascot used prominently on the company's web site. The Mozilla name was also used as the User-Agent in [] requests by the browser. Other web browsers claimed to be compatible with Netscape's extensions to HTML, and therefore used the same name in their User-Agent identifiers so that web servers would send them the same pages as were sent to Netscape browsers. Mozilla is now a generic name for matters related to the open source successor to Netscape Communicator.

The rise of Netscape

When the consumer Internet revolution arrived in the mid-to-late 1990s, Netscape was well positioned to take advantage of it. With a good mix of features and an attractive licensing scheme that allowed free use for non-commercial purposes, the Netscape browser soon became the de facto standard, particularly on the Windows platform. Internet service providers and computer magazine publishers helped make Navigator readily available.

An important innovation that Netscape introduced in 1994 was the on-the-fly display of webpages, where text and graphics appeared on the screen as the web page downloaded. Earlier web browsers would not display a page until all graphics on it had been loaded over the network connection; this often made a user stare at a blank page for as long as several minutes. With Netscape, people using dial-up connections could begin reading the text of a webpage within seconds of entering a web address, even before the rest of the text and graphics had finished downloading. This made the web much more tolerable to the average user.

Through the late 1990s, Netscape made sure that Navigator remained the technical leader among web browsers. Important new features included [cookie|cookies], frames, and JavaScript (in version 2.0). Although those and other innovations eventually became open standards of the W3C and ECMA and were emulated by other browsers, they were often viewed as controversial. Netscape, according to critics, was more interested in bending the web to its own de facto "standards" (bypassing standards committees and thus marginalizing the commercial competition) than it was in fixing bugs in its products. Consumer rights advocates were particularly critical of cookies and of commercial web sites using them to invade individual privacy.

In the marketplace, however, these concerns made little difference. Netscape Navigator remained the market leader with more than 50% usage share. The browser software was available for a wide range of operating systems, including Windows (3.1, 95, 98, NT), Macintosh, Linux, OS/2, and many versions of Unix including DEC, Sun Solaris, BSDI, IRIX, AIX, and HP-UX, and looked and worked nearly identically on every one of them. Netscape began to experiment with prototypes of a web-based system, known internally as "Constellation", which would allow a user to access and edit his files anywhere across a network no matter what computer or operating system he happened to be using.

Industry observers confidently forecast the dawn of a new era of connected computing. The underlying operating system, it was believed, would become an unimportant consideration; future applications would run within a web browser. This was seen by Netscape as a clear opportunity to entrench Navigator at the heart of the next generation of computing, and thus gain the opportunity to expand into all manner of other software and service market.

The Fall of Netscape

Microsoft saw Netscape threatening the dominant-operating-system status of its Microsoft Windows operating system, beginning a wide campaign to establish its control of the web browser software market. Per market reasoning, browser market share leads to control of internet standards, and, in turn, opportunity for selling software and computer services, thus, Microsoft licensed the Mosaic source code from Spyglass, Inc. (a University of Illinois off-shoot) and converted it into Microsoft Internet Explorer.

The war between Microsoft and Netscape was denominated the Browser Wars; Version 1.0 and Version 2.0 of Internet Explorer (IE) were mostly inferior to contemporary versions of Netscape Navigator; IE Version 3.0 (1996) caught up competitively; IE Version 4.0 (1997) seemed-to, but did not, over-take Netscape; IE 5.0 (1999), of improved stability, took market share from Netscape Navigator, for the first time.

There were two versions of Netscape Navigator 3.0; the Standard Edition and the Gold Edition. The latter consisted of the Navigator browser with e-mail, news readers, and a WYSIWYG web page compositor. The extra functions enlarged and slowed the software, rendering it prone to crashing; yet it was the version (renamed) published as Netscape Communicator, in version 4.0; the name change (Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale insisted, was because Communicator was a general-purpose client application, which contained the Navigator browser) diluted its name-recognition and confused users.

The aging Netscape Communicator 4.x code was slower than Internet Explorer 5.0. Typical web pages had become heavily illustrated, often JavaScript-intensive, encoded with complex HTML code using features designed for specific purposes, but deployed them as global layout tools (HTML tables were especially difficult for Communicator to render). The Netscape browser, once a solid product, became crash-prone and buggy; aggravating that, some versions re-downloaded an entire web page to re-render it when the browser window was re-sized (a nuisance to dial-up users) and would usually crash when the page contained simple Cascading Style Sheets. Moreover, Netscape Communicator's browser interface design dated in comparison to Internet Explorer.

At decade's end, Netscape's web browser had lost dominance over the Windows platform. On other computer platforms, it was threatened, by open-source browsers and the August 1997 Microsoft financial agreement to invest $150,000,000 in Apple, requiring that Apple make Internet Explorer the default web browser in new Mac OS installations. The latest IE Mac release, then, was Internet Explorer version 3.0 for Macintosh, but Internet Explorer 4 was released later that year.

In the event, Microsoft succeeded in having ISPs and PC vendors distribute Internet Explorer to their customers instead of Netscape Navigator, partly aided by Microsoft's investment in making IE brandable, such that a customized version of IE was offered. Also, web developers used proprietary, browser-specific extensions in web pages. Both Microsoft and Netscape were found guilty of so doing, having added many proprietary HTML tags to their browsers, forcing users to choose between two competing, almost incompatible web browsers.

In March of 1998, Netscape released most of the code base for Netscape Communicator under an open source license. The product, Netscape 5, uses open-source community contributions, is known as Mozilla, Netscape Navigator's original code name. Netscape programmers gave Mozilla a different GUI, releasing it as Netscape 6 and Netscape 7. After a long public beta test, Mozilla 1.0 was released on 5 June 2002. The same code-base, notably the Gecko layout engine, became the basis of independent applications, including Firefox and Thunderbird.

These web browsers took years to yield results, meantime, America Online had bought Netscape, and released Netscape 6, from a pre-beta test quality, open-source Mozilla browser. Resultantly, many users continued migrating to Internet Explorer, abandoning the Netscape Navigator web browser. On 28 December 2007, Netscape developers announced that AOL cancelled development of Netscape Navigator, leavining it unsupported on 1 February 2008. After then, archived and unsupported versions of the browser will be available for download.

Release history

  • Mosaic Netscape 0.9 – October 13, 1994
  • Netscape Navigator 1.0 – December 15, 1994
  • Netscape Navigator 1.1 – March 1995
  • Netscape Navigator 1.22 – August 1995
  • Netscape Navigator 2.0 – March 1996
  • Netscape Navigator 2.01
  • Netscape Navigator 2.02
  • Netscape Navigator 3.0 – August 19, 1996
  • Netscape Navigator 3.01
  • Netscape Navigator 3.02
  • Netscape Navigator 3.03
  • Netscape Navigator 3.04 – October 4, 1997
  • Netscape Navigator 4.0 – June 1997
  • Netscape Navigator 4.01
  • Netscape Navigator 4.02
  • Netscape Navigator 4.03
  • Netscape Navigator 4.04
  • Netscape Navigator 4.05
  • Netscape Navigator 4.06 – August 17, 1998
  • Netscape Navigator 4.07
  • Netscape Navigator 4.08 – November 9, 1998 (Last release for 16-bit Windows and 68k Macintoshes)


Netscape Navigator has mostly been criticized for implementing non-standard HTML markup extensions such as the BLINK tag, which is sometimes referred to as a symbol for Netscape's urge to develop extensions not standardized by the W3C. Netscape has also been criticized for following actual web standards poorly, often lagging behind or supporting them very poorly or even incorrectly. This criticism wasn't very loud during the days of its popularity as web designers then often simply developed for Netscape Navigator, but came to be an increasing annoyance to web designers who wish to provide backward compatibility, most often with Netscape Navigator 4 and Netscape Communicator, to their web sites. Today, many web masters simply do not choose to support these old versions, due to their extremely small market share and lack of standardization.

However, Netscape's own contributions to the web of this sort hasn't always been of frustration to web developers. JavaScript (which has little to do with Java) was for example submitted as a new standard to Ecma International, resulting in the ECMAScript specification. This move allowed it to be more easily supported by multiple web browsers and is today an established cross-browser scripting language, long after Netscape Navigator itself has dropped in popularity. Another example is the FRAME tag, that is also widely supported today, and even ended up becoming incorporated into official web standards such as the "HTML 4.01 Frameset" specification.

In a 2007 PC World column, the original Netscape Navigator was considered the "best tech product of all time" due to its impact on the Internet.

See also


External links

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