Tuesday, October 16, 2007


No, this post is not about the big @$$ Ford SUV.

I got a hard case of déjà vu yesterday, when I got the news that Netscape just released the latest version of their famous browser, Navigator 9.0.

I still remember the days when we were playing with the first browser (with graphical interface) called Mosaic. That was a wholly unique experience that brought the Internet to life for me (it was before the term "the web" was coined). Until today, if you go to your IE's about box, you'll see this:

Netscape started soon afterwards, around 1993. It kept the same interface we have today: Home, Back, Refresh and Stop buttons. A big white space in the middle to show the page. And as time went by, bookmark features - now that you had actual sites to bookmark.

I've used it on Sun Solaris, Mac OS and later on Windows (3.0 I believe) and for a time, Netscape WAS the web. Each version brought on new features (a tiny lock for https pages, email client etc.).

But then Marc Andreesen, Netscape's CEO, had to go and tease Bill Gates, saying to whoever wanted to hear, that operating systems, specifically Windows, were a thing of the past.
That in the future, the content will be on the web and all you'll need is a browser to access it (Netscape's, of course).

The browser wars officially started when Gates issued an internal memo, calling all of Microsoft to arms, and resulting in Internet Explorer 1.0 - at that time, something you took one look at, and started looking at how you can remove it without re-installing Windows.

But Microsoft, being Microsoft, has time and money. Version 3 of IE started getting good reviews. At the same time, Netscape's browser, now called "Navigator", started bloating. The extra features meant it grew and grew in size, just like the SUV. Simple tasks took forever to execute. IE started looking like a valid alternative.

Netscape then committed the most capital crime of the software industry: they've announced they're going to rewrite from scratch their entire code base. Normally, this is a stupid thing to do, since you lose years of history, bug resolutions and QA effort. During a war, it's suicidal.

By the time Netscape came back with a leaner, C++ based Navigator, the war was over. IE 5 killed it on every front. Not to mention the fact IE came pre-packaged and free with the world's most common OS (later leading to an anti-trust case against MS).

Several years of bizarre business behavior later (acquired by AOL, core team leaves, news sites erected and taken down), Netscape released its code to the open source foundation, called Mozilla. That yielded the Firefox browser, now proudly taking on IE 7.
The war goes on, and for my account, FF rules.
(You can read the full Netscape-MS story in the book "In Search of Stupidity" - Amazon link on the left).

Yesterday, Netscape released Navigator 9 (download it here).
And what's new, you may ask? Nothing. It looks and behaves just like Firefox, with a Netscape skin. It's small (~6MB) and behaves better memory-consuming-wise. Few nice features - that can be added to FF as add-ons. All in all, nothing to write home about.
I'm using it now to write this post - but am not sure I'll keep it around.

Still, a blast from the past...

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