Netscape Communications Corporation

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The current Netscape logo
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The logo used by Netscape from 1994 to 2002

Netscape Communications Corporation was the publisher of the Netscape web browsers as well as many other internet and intranet client and server software products.


Early Years

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The logo of Mosaic Communications Corporation and its browser

The company was founded as Mosaic Communications Corporation on April 4, 1994 by Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark, and was the first company to attempt to capitalize on the nascent World Wide Web. It released a web browser called Mosaic Netscape 0.9 on October 13, 1994. This browser was subsequently renamed Netscape Navigator, and the company took on the 'Netscape' name on November 14, 1994 [1] ( to avoid trademark ownership problems with NCSA, where the initial Netscape employees had previously created the NCSA Mosaic web browser. (The Mosaic Netscape web browser shared no code with NCSA Mosaic.)

Netscape had a successful IPO on August 9, 1995. The stock was to be offered at $14 per share; a last-minute decision doubled the initial offering to $28 per share; the stock's value reached $75 on the first day of trading, which was nearly a record for a stock's first-day gain. The company's revenues doubled every quarter in 1995 [2] (

One of Netscape's stated goals was to "level the playing field" among operating systems by providing a consistent web browsing experience across them. The Netscape web browser interface was identical on any client computer, and Netscape later experimented with prototypes of a web-based system 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. This did not escape the attention of Microsoft, which viewed the commoditization of operating systems as a direct threat to its bottom line.

Several Microsoft executives are reported to have visited the Netscape campus in June 1995 to propose dividing the market, which would have allowed Microsoft to produce web browser software on Windows while leaving other operating systems to Netscape. [3] ( Netscape refused.

Microsoft released version 1.0 of Internet Explorer as a part of the Windows 95 Plus Pack add-on. According to former Spyglass developer Eric Sink, Internet Explorer was based on a version of Mosaic developed at Spyglass and not NCSA Mosaic as commonly believed. [4] ( Microsoft quickly released several successive versions of Internet Explorer, bundling them with Windows, never charging for them, financing their development and marketing with revenues from other areas of the company. This period of time became known as the browser wars, in which Netscape Communicator and Internet Explorer added lots of new features (not always working correctly) and went through lots of version numbers (not always in a logical fashion) in attempts to outdo each other. But Internet Explorer had the upper hand, as the amount of manpower and capital dedicated to it eventually surpassed the resources available in Netscape's entire business. By version 3.0, IE was roughly a feature-for-feature equivalent of Netscape Communicator, and by version 4.0, it was generally considered to be more stable. Microsoft also targeted other Netscape products with free workalikes, such as the Internet Information Server (IIS), a web server which was bundled with Windows NT.

Netscape could not compete with this strategy. Meanwhile, it faced increasing criticism for the bugs in its products; critics claimed that the company suffered from 'featuritis' - putting a higher priority on adding new features than on making them work properly. The tide of public opinion, having once lauded Netscape as the David to Microsoft's Goliath, steadily turned negative, especially when Netscape experienced its first bad quarter at the end of 1997 and underwent a large round of layoffs in January 1998.

Open source

January 1998 was also the month that Netscape started the open source Mozilla project. Knowing that Internet Explorer had become by far the dominant web browser in the marketplace, Netscape tried a Hail Mary play by publicly releasing the source code of Netscape Communicator 4.0 in the hopes that it would become a popular open source project. It placed this code under the Netscape Public License, which was similar to the GNU General Public License but allowed Netscape to continue to publish proprietary work containing the publicly-released code. However, after having released the Communicator 4.0 code this way, Netscape proceeded to work on Communicator 4.5 which was focused on improving email and enterprise functionality. It eventually became clear that the Communicator 4.0 browser was too difficult to develop on and open source development was halted on this codebase. Instead open source development shifted to a next generation browser which was based on the Gecko layout engine. This browser had a much more modular architecture than Communicator 4.0 and was therefore easier to develop with a large number of programmers. It also included an XML user interface language (XUL) that allowed single development of a user interface that ran on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.

The United States Department of Justice filed an antitrust case against Microsoft in May 1998. Netscape was not a plaintiff in the case, though its executives were subpoenaed and it contributed much material to the case, including the entire contents of the 'Bad Attitude' internal discussion forum. [5] (,1283,14743,00.html)

In October 1998, Netscape acquired Newhoo for the sum of $1 million, renamed it the Open Directory Project, and released its database under an open content license.

Acquisition by America Online

America Online on November 24, 1998 announced it would acquire Netscape Communications in a tax-free stock-swap valued at US$4.2 billion at the time of the announcement. This merger was ridiculed by many who believed that the two corporate cultures could not possibly mesh; one of its most prominent critics was longtime Netscape developer Jamie Zawinski. [6] ( [7] ( The acquisition was seen as a way for AOL to gain a bargaining chip against Microsoft, to let it become less dependent on the Internet Explorer web browser. Others believed that AOL was interested in Netcenter, or Netscape's web properties, which drew some of the highest traffic worldwide. Eventually, the majority of Netscape's server products were spun off to form a iPlanet Inc. a joint-venture between AOL and Sun Microsystems.

On November 14 2000, AOL released Netscape 6, based on the Mozilla 0.6 source code. (Version number 5 was skipped.) Unfortunately, Mozilla 0.6 was far from being stable yet, and so the effect of Netscape 6 was to further drive people away from the Netscape brand. It wasn't until August 2001 that Netscape 6.1 appeared, based on Mozilla 0.9.2 which was significantly more robust; and then a year later came Netscape 7.0 (which was released a few days after a Netscape Communicator 4.8 maintenance release, thereby illustrating how the efforts of the Netscape developers were still being divided).

After the Microsoft antitrust case found Microsoft guilty of having abused its monopoly power, AOL filed suit against it for damages. [8] ( This suit was settled in May 2001 when Microsoft paid US$750 million to AOL and agreed to share some technologies, including granting AOL a license to use and distribute Internet Explorer royalty-free for seven years. [9] ( [10] ( This was considered to be the "death knell for Netscape."

On July 15, 2003, Time Warner (formerly AOL Time Warner, formerly AOL) disbanded Netscape. Most of the programmers were laid-off, and the Netscape logo was removed from the building. Netscape exists now only as a brand name under which AOL offers a low cost ISP. [11] ( However, the Netscape 7.2 web browser, likely engineered by a contracted third-party vendor, was released by AOL on August 18, 2004. [12] (

Red Hat announced that it had acquired large portions of the Netscape Enterprise Suite on September 30, 2004, and is planning to convert them into an open-source product bundled with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. [13] ( On June 1, 2005, Red Hat released Fedora Directory Server.

On October 12, 2004, the popular developer website Netscape DevEdge was shut down by AOL. DevEdge was an important resource for Internet-related technologies, maintaining definitive documentation on the Netscape browser, documentation on associated technologies like HTML and JavaScript, and popular articles written by industry and technology leaders such as Danny Goodman. Some content from DevEdge has been republished at the Mozilla website.

Currently, AOL has hired the Canadian company Mercurial Communications ( to develop Netscape Browser 8, based on Mozilla Firefox. To accompany the new browser, a brand new design of the website was introduced on February 17, 2005 ([14] (, which is still in the beta stage. Netscape Browser 8's first public beta was originally also scheduled for this date but, due to unfixed bugs, its release was delayed to March 3, 2005.

Netscape Browser 8 was finally released in non beta form on May 19, 2005.


Netscape's initial product line consisted of:

  • Netscape Navigator web browser for Windows, Macintosh, Unix, and Linux
  • Netsite Communications web server, with a web-based configuration interface
  • Netsite Commerce web server, identical to the Communications server with SSL (https) added
  • Netscape Proxy Server

Later Netscape products included:

  • Netscape Personal Edition (the browser along with PPP software and an account creation wizard to sign up with an ISP)
  • Netscape Communicator (a suite which included Navigator along with tools for mail, news, calendar, and composing web pages, and was bundled with AOL Instant Messenger and RealAudio)
  • Netscape FastTrack and Enterprise web servers
  • Netscape Collabra Server, a NNTP news server acquired in a purchase of Collabra Software, Inc.
  • Netscape Directory Server, an LDAP server
  • Netscape Messaging Server, an IMAP and POP mail server
  • Netscape Certificate Server, for issuing SSL certificates
  • Netscape Calendar Server, for group scheduling
  • Netscape Compass Server, a search engine and spider
  • Netscape Application Server, for designing web applications
  • Netscape Publishing System, for running a commercial site with news articles and charging users per access
  • Netscape Xpert Servers
    • ECxpert - a server for EDI message exchange
    • SellerXpert - B to B Commerce Engine
    • BuyerXpert - eProcurement Engine
    • BillerXpert - Online Bill Paying Engine
    • TradingXpert - HTML EDI transaction frontend
    • CommerceXpert - Online Retail Store engine

Netscape created the JavaScript web page scripting language. It also pioneered the development of "push technology," which effectively allowed web sites to send regular updates of information (weather, stock updates, package tracking, etc.) directly to a user's desktop (aka "webtop"); Netscape's implementation of this was named Netcaster. [15] ( Unfortunately, businesses quickly recognized the use of push technology to deliver ads to users, and annoyed users turned off the feature, so Netcaster was short-lived.

Netscape was notable for its cross-platform efforts. Its client software continued to be made available for Windows (3.1, 95, 98, NT), Macintosh, Linux, OS/2, BeOS, and many versions of Unix including DEC, Sun Solaris, BSDI, IRIX, AIX, and HP-UX. Its server software generally was only available for Unix and Windows NT, though some of its servers were made available on Linux, and a version of Netscape FastTrack Server was made available for Windows 95/98. Today, most of Netscape's server offerings lives on in the form of the Sun Java Enterprise System.

External links

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