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Netscape Communications Corporation

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Netscape Communications Corporation was the publisher of the Netscape Navigator web browser as well as many other internet and intranet client and server software products.

The company was founded as Mosaic Communications Corporation on April 4, 1994 by Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark, and was the first company to attempt to capitalize on the nascent World Wide Web. It released a web browser called "Mosaic Netscape 0.9" on October 13, 1994. This browser was subsequently renamed Netscape Navigator, and the company took on the 'Netscape' name on November 14, 1994 [1] 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 shared no code with NCSA Mosaic.)

Netscape had a successful IPO on August 9, 1995. The stock was to be offered at $14 per share; a last-minute decision doubled the initial offering to $28 per share; the stock's value reached $75 on the first day of trading, which was nearly a record for a stock's first-day gain. The company's revenues doubled every quarter in 1995 [1].

Netscape's initial product line consisted of:

Later Netscape products included:

Netscape created the JavaScript web page scripting language. It also pioneered the development of "push technology," which effectively allowed web sites to send regular updates of information (weather, stock updates, package tracking, etc.) directly to a user's desktop (aka "webtop"); Netscape's implementation of this was named Netcaster. [1] Unfortunately, businesses quickly recognized the use of push technology to deliver ads to users, and annoyed users turned off the feature, so Netcaster was short-lived.

Netscape was notable for its cross-platform efforts. Its client software continued to be made available for Windows (3.1, 95, 98, NT), Macintosh, Linux, OS/2, BeOS, and many versions of Unix including DEC, Sun Solaris, BSDI, IRIX, AIX, and HP-UX. Its server software generally was only available for Unix and Windows NT, though some of its servers were made available on Linux, and a version of Netscape FastTrack Server was made available for Windows 95/98.

One of Netscape's stated 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 client computer, and Netscape later experimented with prototypes of a web-based system which would allow a user to access and edit his files anywhere across a network, no matter what computer or operating system he 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.

Several Microsoft executives are reported to have visited the Netscape campus in June 1995 to propose dividing the market, which would have allowed Microsoft to produce web browser software on Windows while leaving other operating systems to Netscape. [1] Netscape refused.

Microsoft released version 1.0 of Internet Explorer (based, ironically, on the NCSA Mosaic code) as a part of the Windows 95 Plus Pack add-on. 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 lots of new features (not always working correctly) and went through lots of 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. 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. Meanwhile, it 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. 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 layoffs in January 1998.

January 1998 was also the month that Netscape started the open source Mozilla project. Knowing that Internet Explorer had become by far the dominant web browser in the marketplace, Netscape tried a Hail Mary play by publicly releasing 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 without contributing fixes to the public code or using fixes from the public code; this has been seen as a bad decision, as it diverted effort from the open source project.

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. [1]

In October 1998, Netscape acquired Newhoo for the sum of $1 million, renamed it the Open Directory Project, and released its database under an open content license.

America Online on November 24, 1998 announced it would acquire Netscape Communications in a stock-for-stock transaction worth US$4.2 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. [1] [1] 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.

On November 14 2000, AOL released Netscape 6, based on the Mozilla 0.6 source code. (Version number 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 wasn't until August 2001 that Netscape 6.1 appeared, based on Mozilla 0.9.2 which was significantly more robust; and then a year later came Netscape 7.0 (which was released a few days after a Netscape Communicator 4.8 maintenance release, thereby illustrating how the efforts of the Netscape developers were still being divided).

After the Microsoft antitrust case found Microsoft guilty of having abused its monopoly power, AOL filed suit against it for damages. [1] This suit was settled in May 2001 when Microsoft paid US$750 million to AOL and agreed to share some technologies, including granting AOL a license to use and distribute Internet Explorer royalty-free for seven years. [1] [1] This was considered to be the "death knell for Netscape."

On July 15, 2003, Time Warner (formerly AOL Time Warner, formerly AOL) disbanded Netscape. Most of the programmers were fired, and the Netscape logo was removed from the building. Netscape's sole existence now is as a brand name, under which AOL offers a low cost ISP. [1]

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