Netscape Communications (formerly known as Netscape Communications Corp. and commonly known as Netscape) is a US computer services company, best known for Netscape Navigator, its web browser. It originated as an offshoot of the Mosaic Communications Corporation which was founded at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before it was later acquired by America Online in 1998, its headquarters were in Mountain View, California.
Netscape's web browser was once dominant in terms of usage share, but lost most of that share to Internet Explorer during the first browser war. The usage share of Netscape had fallen from over 90 percent in the mid-1990s to less than one percent by the end of 2010.
Netscape stock traded from 1995 until 2000 when it was acquired by AOL in a pooling-of-interests transaction ultimately worth US$10 billion. Shortly before its acquisition by AOL, Netscape released the source code for its browser and created the Mozilla Organization to coordinate future development of its product. The Mozilla Organization rewrote the entire browser's source code based on the Gecko rendering engine; all future Netscape releases were based on this rewritten code. The Gecko engine would later be used to power the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser.
Under AOL, Netscape's browser development continued until December 2007, when Tom Drapeau, director of AOL's Netscape Brand, announced that the company would stop supporting Netscape software products as of March 1, 2008. The Netscape brand is still used, as of 2013, by AOL to market a discount Internet service provider.
Netscape was the first company to attempt to capitalize on the nascent World Wide Web. It was originally founded under the name, Mosaic Communications Corporation, on April 4, 1994, the brainchild of Jim Clark who had recruited Marc Andreessen as co-founder and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as investors. Clark recruited other early team members from SGI and NCSA Mosaic, including Rosanne Siino who became Vice President of Communications. Jim Barksdale came on board as CEO in January 1995. Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen originally created a 20-page concept pitch for an online gaming network to Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 console, but a deal was never reached. Marc Andreessen explains, "If they had shipped a year earlier, we probably would have done that instead of Netscape."
The company's first product was the web browser, called Mosaic Netscape 0.9, released on October 13, 1994. This browser was subsequently renamed Netscape Navigator, and the company took the 'Netscape' name (coined by employee Greg Sands, although it was also a trademark of Cisco Systems) on November 14, 1994 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 did not use any NCSA Mosaic code. Netscape made a very successful IPO on August 9, 1995. The stock was set to be offered at $14 per share, but a last-minute decision doubled the initial offering to $28 per share. The stock's value soared to $75 during the first day of trading, nearly a record for first-day gain. The stock closed at $58.25, which gave Netscape, an unprofitable firm, a market value of $2.9 billion. The company's revenues doubled every quarter in 1995. Netscape's success (which crystallized the "Netscape Moment") landed Andreessen, barefoot, on the cover of Time Magazine.
Netscape advertised that "the web is for everyone" and stated one of its 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 computer. Netscape later experimented with prototypes of a web-based system which would enable users to access and edit their files anywhere across a network, no matter what computer or operating system they 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, i.e. a move from Windows to another operating system would yield a similar browsing experience thus reducing barriers to change. It is alleged that several Microsoft executives visited the Netscape campus in June 1995 to propose dividing the market (although Microsoft denies this as it would have breached anti-trust laws), which would have allowed Microsoft to produce web browser software for Windows while leaving all other operating systems to Netscape. Netscape refused the proposition.
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 not on NCSA Mosaic as commonly believed, but on a version of Mosaic developed at Spyglass (which itself was based upon NCSA Mosaic). 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 many new features and went through many 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 on Windows than on the Macintosh platform. 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. In fact, it didn't attempt to. Netscape Navigator was not free to the general public until January 1998, while Internet Explorer and IIS have always been free or came bundled with an operating system and/or other applications. Meanwhile, Netscape 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. This was particularly true with Netscape Navigator 2, which was only on the market for 5 months in early 1996 before being replaced by Netscape Navigator 3. 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 lay-offs in January 1998. Netscape chief financial officer Peter Currie described the mid-1990s as "hectic and crazy" and that the company was undone by factors both internal and external.
January 1998 was also the month that Netscape started the open source Mozilla project. Netscape publicly released 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, and open source development was halted on this codebase. Instead, the open source development shifted to a next generation browser built from scratch. Using the newly built 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 named XUL that allowed single development of a user interface that ran on Windows, Macintosh, and Unix.
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. In October 1998, Netscape acquired web directory site NewHoo for the sum of $1 million, renamed it the Open Directory Project, and released its database under an open content license.
America Online (AOL) 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. By the time the deal closed on March 17, 1999, it was valued at US$10 billion. 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. 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, Netscape's server products and its Professional Services group became part of iPlanet, a joint marketing and development alliance between AOL and Sun Microsystems. On November 14, 2000, AOL released Netscape 6, based on the Mozilla 0.6 source code. (Version 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 was not until August 2001 that Netscape 6.1 appeared, based on Mozilla 0.9.2 which was significantly more robust. A year later came Netscape 7.0, based on the Mozilla 1.0 core.
During the acquisition of Netscape by AOL, joint development and marketing of Netscape software products would occur through the Sun-Netscape Alliance. The software in the newly branded iPlanet included "messaging and calendar, collaboration, web, application, directory, and certificate servers", as well as "production-ready applications for e-commerce, including commerce exchange, procurement, selling, and billing." In March 2002, when the alliance was ended, "iPlanet became a division of Sun... Sun retained the intellectual property rights for all products and the engineering"
On July 15, 2003, Time Warner (formerly AOL Time Warner) disbanded Netscape. Most of the programmers were laid-off, and the Netscape logo was removed from the building. However, the Netscape 7.2 web browser (developed in-house rather than with Netscape staff, with some work outsourced to Sun's Beijing development center) was released by AOL on August 18, 2004.
After the Sun acquisition by Oracle in January 2010, Oracle continued to sell iPlanet branded applications, which originated from Netscape.
Applications include: Oracle iPlanet Web Server and Oracle iPlanet Web Proxy Server.
Final release of the browser
The Netscape brand name continued to be used extensively. The company once again had its own programming staff devoted to the development and support for the series of web browsers. Additionally, Netscape also maintained the Propeller web portal, which was a popular social-news site, similar to Digg, which was given a new look in June 2006. AOL marketed a discount ISP service under the Netscape brand name.
A new version of the Netscape browser, Netscape Navigator 9, based on Firefox 2, was released in October 2007. It featured a sleek green and grey interface. In November 2007, IE had 77.4% of the browser market, Firefox 16.0% and Netscape 0.6%, according to Net Applications, an Internet metrics firm. On December 28, 2007, AOL announced that on February 1, 2008 it would drop support for the Netscape web browser and would no longer develop new releases. The date was later extended to March 1 to allow a major security update and to add a tool to assist users in migrating to other browsers. These additional features were included in the final version of Netscape Navigator 9 (version 18.104.22.168), released on February 20, 2008.