The Netscape Web browser has long since been eclipsed by its Firefox offshoot, but it's still somewhat noteworthy that AOL is formally pulling the plug on its historic software.
"AOL's focus on transitioning to an ad-supported Web business leaves little room for the size of investment needed to get the Netscape browser to a point many of its fans expect it to be. Given AOL's current business focus and the success the Mozilla Foundation has had in developing critically-acclaimed products, we feel it's the right time to end development of Netscape-branded browsers, hand the reigns fully to Mozilla, and encourage Netscape users to adopt Firefox," said Netscape's Tom Drapeau in a blog posting Friday.
Support for the Netscape Navigator browser will continue through February 1, 2008, he said, but AOL is recommending people move to Firefox. The Netscape.com portal will still be available, though, and nostalgia buffs can reskin Firefox with a Netscape look.
Netscape has a long history by Internet standards. The browser's precursor was a separate project, Mosaic, written by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina at the National Center of Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, but Andreessen left to found the Netscape start-up with Silicon Graphics founder Jim Clark.
Netscape was key to making the World Wide Web useful and the company's initial public offering is considered the beginning of the dot-com boom. The software also struck fear into the heart of Microsoft, raising the prospect of a computing environment that could rival Windows.
But Microsoft fought back with Internet Explorer, winning away Netscape's dominant market share. Netscape fought back in 1998 with a plan to make its browser open-source software, but that didn't immediately improve the company's prospects, and Netscape ended up an AOL subsidiary even as the Internet service provider continued to ship Microsoft's browser. Sun Microsystems, in a complicated transaction, bought rights to the Netscape server software.
AOL never devoted much effort to Netscape, though the Netscape.com Internet portal still is up and running. But the Mozilla Foundation AOL spun off had more success. The Firefox browser that grew from it now has significant adoption, though still trailing Internet Explorer by a wide margin.
AOL wasn't successful in trying to resurrect the Netscape browser using a Firefox foundation, Drapeau said.
"While internal groups within AOL have invested a great deal of time and energy in attempting to revive Netscape Navigator, these efforts have not been successful in gaining market share from Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Recently, support for the Netscape browser has been limited to a handful of engineers tasked with creating a skinned version of Firefox with a few extensions."
So yes, it's a sad chapter for Netscape Navigator, but at least it lives on as Firefox to give IE a run for its money.