Netscape was a company which produced the most popular web browser of the second half of the 1990s: Netscape Navigator. This was the first browser I ever used as a kid, on my dad’s workstation which ran Solaris, before we switched over to Mozilla Suite (which was basically Netscape’s successor). Netscape was one of the two major players in the First Browser War, in which it was ultimately beaten resoundingly by Internet Explorer.
Netscape Navigator 1.0 was released in late 1994, its release coinciding with an explosion of personal computing. It was nominally free for non-commercial use (although these were the days where software often had to be purchased in boxes in stores or came bundled with a book, so you know, not totally free) and this helped it appeal to people getting started with the internet for the first time. Another innovation that made it attractive compared to its competitors was that it loaded pages progressively, rather than waiting for everything (ahem, graphics) to finish downloading before it would display anything at all. For people on dial-up connections, this made the internet a lot more bearable to browse.
While the web browser was the most important product in Netscape’s suite, it wasn’t the only one. For the first three major versions, both the browser and the suite were both called “Netscape Navigator”; for version 4.0 the company decided to rename the suite, instead having “Netscape Communicator” which included the web browser “Netscape Navigator”.
Microsoft’s business practices also hastened Netscape’s decline, with them bundling their Internet Explorer browser into installs of Windows, and paying Apple to make Internet Explorer the default operating system in their browser too. This meant that newcomers to the internet in the late 90s were often just using the browser that came included with their operating system… and that wasn’t Netscape.
In early 1998, Netscape released their development code base under an open-source licence – it was this that formed the basis of the Mozilla project. The company itself was acquired by AOL in 1999, which limped along releasing a few more Netscape versions built on the code base now managed by Mozilla (with the last versions built on Firefox, a mostly-rewritten version of the Mozilla code) before discontinuing their efforts at the end of 2007. Netscape’s few remaining users were encouraged to migrate to Firefox.