Goodbye Netscape, and thanks for all the fish

By Soumya Sarkar, IANS

Many moons ago, when the world was younger and an infant World Wide Web was tentatively weaving its virtual strands, Netscape Navigator redefined browsing and forever changed the way we looked at the world.

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With its owner America Online switching off its life support Feb 1 after a 13-year run, it’s time to thank Netscape for all the “fish” we caught on the brave new world of the Internet.

Before Netscape hit the scene, we browsed or leafed through books, and cattle browsed through grass and foliage.

Ask any youngster today what browsing stands for and you would see how Netscape, and later other browsers, provided new meanings to old words.

When Internet access went public in India in August 1995, Netscape showed us the way the virtual world was unfolding.

We started understanding how knowledge drove development and civilisation in the western world.

We realised fast that the Internet – by making information and knowledge universally accessible, and giving us virtual pathways to reach out globally – provided us an opportunity for the first time ever to sharpen our own development.

How can we ever forget that Netscape led us by the hand to this new age?

Much water has flowed under the bridge since Netscape was launched in 1994. Its story is in a way how the Internet culture developed.

When the consumer Internet revolution arrived in the mid-1990s, Netscape was well placed to take advantage of it. With a good mix of features and attractive licensing that allowed free use for non-commercial purposes, Netscape soon became the de-facto standard.

Through the late 1990s, Netscape made sure it remained the technical leader among web browsers. Important new features included cookies, frames, and JavaScript. These and other innovations eventually became open standards and were emulated by other browsers.

America Online originally acquired Netscape for $4.2 billion in November 1998, a landmark event in the first Web boom.

The meteoric rise of Netscape drew the attention of Microsoft, which purchased the source code of Mosaic, the precursor to Netscape, and developed Internet Explorer, which was initially thought to be a vastly inferior product than Netscape.

It, however, was successful in weaning away Netscape users by giving away its Internet Explorer browser for free with its flagship Windows 95 operating system.

This bundling prompted a charge of monopolistic practice against Microsoft and earned it the name Big Satan by Internet evangelists, who believed the World Wide Web should come with no strings attached.

Microsoft settled the lawsuit and Internet Explorer became king, with a market share of 95 percent in 2002.

Netscape, however, spawned an open-source project called Mozilla, in which developers from around the world freely contribute to writing and testing the software.

Mozilla released its stand-alone browser Firefox in November 2004, which currently has a market share of more than 15 percent in the browser market, mostly at the cost of Internet Explorer.

For admirers of Netscape, it is a vindication of sorts.

Netscape will always have its place in history, especially for those that first found their way on to the Web in the 1990s.

Thank you Netscape for being such an able navigator.

(Soumya Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])