Netscape Navigator also simply known as Netscape was once the most widely used web browser software. It effectively brought the Internet to millions of people, many of whom were by no means computer specialists. By 2002 this software had virtually disappeared, supplanted by Internet Explorer and to a lesser degree Mozilla Firefox. While Netscape is no longer with us, the changes that it brought to computers and the Internet ever present. Let's take a closer look at this magnificent software's history and the changes it brought.

By the early 1990s the Internet had been around for decades but remained unavailable to the general public. Simply put, accessing the Internet was expensive, complicated, and not very much fun. In 1992 Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Timothy Berners-Lee) invented the World Wide Web while working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. The Internet could now store hypertext pages accessible by browsers on a network. Two programming giants, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina created the first graphics-based web browser Mosaic at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Mosaic was very short lived. Andreessen and others founded Netscape Communications whose flagship software was Netscape Navigator.

This browser became available at the end of 1994. It was originally slated to be free for all non-commercial users. A few months later company policy changed and only
educational and non-profit institutions could use Netscape without charge. Shortly after its release Netscape became very, very popular. One of its special features was the ability to display web pages on the fly. Text and graphics started displaying on the user's computer screen immediately; competitive browsers would only display a page after loading all the graphics. Given the slow connections that were then the norm the difference was striking. Netscape users could work with the downloaded web pages. Users of competitive browsers had to be content staring at a blank screen, perhaps for a few minutes. Small wonder that Netscape was such a big hit.

Netscape worked on a wide variety of computer systems. What's more it looked and worked virtually the same on all of them. This browser also rapidly adopted many technical functions even if they were controversial such as cookies, said to attack personal privacy. Netscape experimented with delivering computer services via the web browser rather than via the operating system. As you might well imagine, Microsoft was unhappy with this perspective. It belatedly entered the browser wars with Internet Explorer, also an offshoot of Mosaic. By 1996 Internet Explorer caught up with Netscape, by 1999 Internet Explorer had clearly won the battle.

Why did Microsoft win? Here are several reasons. Netscape was a small company with a single major product while Microsoft was a giant. Netscape's revenue never equaled the interest paid on Microsoft's cash on hand. Microsoft had over 90% of the operating system market and had no trouble tying Internet Explorer into the operating system. This meant Windows users had immediate access to IE and many saw no need to download Netscape. Internet Explorer did have some technical advantages such as greater speed. I can't really cry over the Netscape owners, near the end of the millennium America Online purchased the company for $4.2 billion. Internet Explorer peaked at about 95% web browser usage. It has since declined sharply while remaining number 1.

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