It’s the end of an era: On February 1, 2008, AOL’s Netscape division will pull the plug on Netscape Navigator browsers after several attempts to revive itself with branded versions of the Mozilla Seamonkey suite and later Firefox. AOL is recommending that current Netscape users jump over to the standard Firefox product — which, to be fair, is what people were switching to, anyway.
Netscape Navigator brought the Web into the common man’s hands and was a poster child for grassroots marketing — I’ll never forget the days of Netscape NOW! buttons all over the Web. Unfortunately, it also demonstrated the perils of being in cruise-control, as they saw that Microsoft took their small browser, made it competitive, and eventually rendered Netscape as no competition.
Through this, though, Netscape did another amazing thing — it brought viability to open source software. They opened their source code under the Mozilla moniker and rewrote their browser from the ground up. Then, Netscape, which became a division of AOL roughly in the late ’98-early ’99 timeframe, rushed the Mozilla community’s product to market as Netscape 6 and brought a big round of bad press which I believe ultimately sealed the deal for the Netscape brand. Netscape 6 was slow, buggy, and unstable (it was based on Mozilla 0.6, not even considered beta-quality code, for crying out loud) and loyal Netscapers largely rejected it. Followup releases were better, but the community-built Mozilla browser, and eventually Firefox, supplanted Netscape Navigator as the #2 competing browser.
AOL tried everything it could to keep the Netscape brand alive; they farmed out some work to take a couple versions of Firefox and brand them as Netscape 8 and Netscape Navigator 9; it threw Netscape.com through the ringer several times, including a hideously Flash-based interface at one point and a Digg clone that was later moved to Propeller.com; it was even a dialup ISP for a while. Now, Netscape will only live on now as one in a crowd of many (irrelevant) portal sites, an unfitting resting place for the brand that brought the Internet to the masses. And you know, for a brand that kickstarted the revolution we are living, that’s a shame.