So AOL — known in the bad old days as America Online — has finally decided to remove the life-support equipment from Netscape Navigator and allow the browser to die in peace. As Mike Masnick notes over at Techdirt, plenty of people would no doubt be surprised to hear that AOL is still making Netscape at all, let alone putting it on ice. The tide of history has long since passed the venerable old browser by, and it is now like a relic from the Stone Age, sitting next to modern skyscrapers.
Even when AOL was still working on the browser, it was obvious that Netscape was already a museum piece. The last time I used it, everything from the user interface to the features themselves seemed either quaint or like an attempt to tart up something old to make it seem shiny and new, like putting a coat of neon paint on an old lawnmower, or watching an old man try to break-dance. But like Mike Arrington, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Netscape.
Navigator was the first real browser I ever used, although I had tried its precessor Mosaic a few times, as well as a few other early browsers from Booklink (which AOL eventually bought) and others. I remember the logo with the wheel from a ship, and the big N that sat in the upper corner of the browser window and glowed as the websites were being loaded. And I remember creating a “Netdex” Internet stock index for the Globe and Mail in 1995 when Netscape went public.
It was fun to watch Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark get the jump on Microsoft, and beat the bulky and ridiculous Internet Explorer. But then something terrible happened: IE got better and better, and Netscape started to get bigger and more bloated. By Netscape 5 it was actually a pain to download and use — IE was faster and in many ways better. And then came Mozilla, which changed the browser market again.
Mozilla became everything Netscape wasn’t: fast, easy to use, infinitely extendable, and secure in a way IE couldn’t hope to be. I switched a few years ago and have never looked back.