Netscape Navigator

Netscape Navigator
Netscape Navigator
Netscape Navigator.png
Netscape Navigator 4.08
Developer(s) Netscape Communications Corporation
Initial release 15 December 1994 (Netscape Navigator 1.0)
Development status Unmaintained
Platform Cross-platform
Type Web browser

Netscape Navigator was a proprietary web browser that was popular in the 1990s. It was the flagship product of the Netscape Communications Corporation and the dominant web browser in terms of usage share, although by 2002 its usage had almost disappeared. This was primarily due to the increased usage of Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser software, and partly because the Netscape Corporation (later purchased by AOL) did not sustain Netscape Navigator's technical innovation after the late 1990s.[1]

The business demise of Netscape was a central premise of Microsoft's antitrust trial, wherein the Court ruled that Microsoft Corporation's bundling of Internet Explorer with the Windows operating system was a monopolistic and illegal business practice. The decision came too late for Netscape however, as Internet Explorer had by then become the dominant web browser in Windows.

The Netscape Navigator web browser was succeeded by Netscape Communicator. Netscape Communicator's 4.x source code was the base for the Netscape-developed Mozilla Application Suite, which was later renamed SeaMonkey.[2] Netscape's Mozilla Suite also served as the base for a browser-only spinoff called Mozilla Firefox and Netscape versions 6 through 9.

AOL formally stopped development of Netscape Navigator on December 28, 2007, but continued supporting the web browser with security updates until March 1, 2008, when AOL canceled technical support. AOL allows downloading of archived versions of the Netscape Navigator web browser family. Moreover, AOL maintains the Netscape website as an Internet portal.[3]


History and development

The creation

Netscape Navigator was based on the Mosaic web browser, which was co-written by Marc Andreessen, a part-time employee of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and a student at the University of Illinois. After Andreessen graduated in 1993, he moved to California and there met Jim Clark, the recently-departed founder of Silicon Graphics. Clark believed that the Mosaic browser had great commercial possibilities and provided the seed money. Soon Mosaic Communications Corporation was in business in Mountain View, California, with Andreessen as a vice-president. Since the University of Illinois was unhappy with the company's use of the Mosaic name, the company changed its name to Netscape Communications (thought up by sales representative Greg Sands) and named its flagship web browser Netscape Navigator.

Mosaic Netscape 0.9, a pre-1.0 version. Note the image of the Mozilla mascot, and the Mosaic logo in the top-right corner.

Netscape announced in its first press release (October 13, 1994) that it would make Navigator available without charge to all non-commercial users, and Beta versions of version 1.0 and 1.1 were indeed freely downloadable in November 1994 and March 1995, with the full version 1.0 available in December 1994. Netscape's initial corporate policy regarding Navigator is interesting, as it claimed that it would make Navigator freely available for non-commercial use in accordance with the notion that Internet software should be distributed for free.[4]

However, within 2 months of that press release, Netscape apparently reversed its policy on who could freely obtain and use version 1.0 by only mentioning that educational and non-profit institutions could use version 1.0 at no charge.[5]

The reversal was complete with the availability of version 1.1 beta on March 6, 1995, in which a press release states that the final 1.1 release would be available at no cost only for academic and non-profit organizational use. Gone was the notion expressed in the first press release that Navigator would be freely available in the spirit of Internet software. Some security experts and cryptographer found out that all released Netscape versions had major security problems with crashing the browser with long URLs and 40 bits encryption keys.[6][7]

The first few releases of the product were made available in "commercial" and "evaluation" versions; for example, version "1.0" and version "1.0N". The "N" evaluation versions were completely identical to the commercial versions; the letter was there to remind people to pay for the browser once they felt they had tried it long enough and were satisfied with it. This distinction was formally dropped within a year of the initial release, and the full version of the browser continued to be made available for free online, with boxed versions available on floppy disks (and later CDs) in stores along with a period of phone support. Email support was initially free, and remained so for a year or two until the volume of support requests grew too high.

During development, the Netscape browser was known by the code name Mozilla, which became the name of a Godzilla-like cartoon dragon mascot used prominently on the company's web site. The Mozilla name was also used as the User-Agent in HTTP requests by the browser. Other web browsers claimed to be compatible with Netscape's extensions to HTML, and therefore used the same name in their User-Agent identifiers so that web servers would send them the same pages as were sent to Netscape browsers. Mozilla is now a generic name for matters related to the open source successor to Netscape Communicator.

The rise of Netscape

Netscape Navigator 1.22

When the consumer Internet revolution arrived in the mid-to-late 1990s, Netscape was well positioned to take advantage of it. With a good mix of features and an attractive licensing scheme that allowed free use for non-commercial purposes, the Netscape browser soon became the de facto standard, particularly on the Windows platform. Internet service providers and computer magazine publishers helped make Navigator readily available.

An important innovation that Netscape introduced in 1994 was the on-the-fly display of web pages, where text and graphics appeared on the screen as the web page downloaded. Earlier web browsers would not display a page until all graphics on it had been loaded over the network connection; this often made a user stare at a blank page for as long as several minutes. With Netscape, people using dial-up connections could begin reading the text of a web page within seconds of entering a web address, even before the rest of the text and graphics had finished downloading. This made the web much more tolerable to the average user.

Netscape Navigator 2.02

Through the late 1990s, Netscape made sure that Navigator remained the technical leader among web browsers. Important new features included cookies, frames,[8] proxy auto-config,[9] and JavaScript (in version 2.0). Although those and other innovations eventually became open standards of the W3C and ECMA and were emulated by other browsers, they were often viewed as controversial. Netscape, according to critics, was more interested in bending the web to its own de facto "standards" (bypassing standards committees and thus marginalizing the commercial competition) than it was in fixing bugs in its products. Consumer rights advocates were particularly critical of cookies and of commercial web sites using them to invade individual privacy.

In the marketplace, however, these concerns made little difference. Netscape Navigator remained the market leader with more than 50% usage share. The browser software was available for a wide range of operating systems, including Windows (3.1, 95, 98, NT), Macintosh, Linux, OS/2,[10] and many versions of Unix including DEC, Sun Solaris, BSDI, IRIX, AIX, and HP-UX, and looked and worked nearly identically on every one of them. Netscape began to experiment with prototypes of a web-based system, known internally as "Constellation", which would allow a user to access and edit his or her files anywhere across a network no matter what computer or operating system he or she happened to be using.

Industry observers confidently forecast the dawn of a new era of connected computing. The underlying operating system, it was believed, would become an unimportant consideration; future applications would run within a web browser. This was seen by Netscape as a clear opportunity to entrench Navigator at the heart of the next generation of computing, and thus gain the opportunity to expand into all manner of other software and service market.

The fall of Netscape

Usage share of Netscape Navigator, 1994–2007

With the success of Netscape showing the importance of the web (more and more people were using the Internet due in part to the ease of using Netscape) Microsoft then saw a new profitable market they could take over. Anti-Microsoft banter and talk of Netscape Constellation eliminating the operating system further forced Microsoft's hand. Following Netscape's lead, Microsoft started a campaign to enter the web browser software market. Like Netscape before them, Microsoft licensed the Mosaic source code from Spyglass, Inc. (University of Illinois). Using this basic code, Microsoft created Internet Explorer (IE).

The war between Microsoft and Netscape dominated the Browser Wars. Internet Explorer, Version 1.0 (shipped in the Internet Jumpstart Kit in Microsoft Plus! For Windows 95[11]) and IE, Version 2.0 (the first cross platform web browser supporting Windows and Mac OS [11]) were thought by many to be inferior and primitive when compared to contemporary versions of Netscape Navigator. With the release of IE version 3.0 (1996) Microsoft was able to catch up with Netscape competitively, with IE Version 4.0 (1997) further improving in terms of market share. IE 5.0 (1999) improved stability and took significant market share from Netscape Navigator for the first time.

Netscape 3.04

There were two versions of Netscape Navigator 3.0; the Standard Edition and the Gold Edition. The latter consisted of the Navigator browser with e-mail, news readers, and a WYSIWYG web page compositor; however these extra functions enlarged and slowed the software, rendering it prone to crashing.

This Gold Edition was renamed Netscape Communicator starting with version 4.0; the name change diluted its name-recognition and confused users. Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale insisted on the name change because Communicator was a general-purpose client application, which contained the Navigator browser.

The aging Netscape Communicator 4.x code was slower than Internet Explorer 5.0. Typical web pages had become heavily illustrated, often JavaScript-intensive, and encoded with HTML features designed for specific purposes but now employed as global layout tools (HTML tables, the most obvious example of this, were especially difficult for Communicator to render). The Netscape browser, once a solid product, became crash-prone and buggy; for example, some versions re-downloaded an entire web page to re-render it when the browser window was re-sized (a nuisance to dial-up users), and the browser would usually crash when the page contained simple Cascading Style Sheets. Moreover, Netscape Communicator's browser interface design appeared dated in comparison to Internet Explorer and interface changes in Microsoft and Apple's operating systems.

Netscape 4.08

At decade's end, Netscape's web browser had lost dominance over the Windows platform. On other computer platforms, it was threatened by open-source browsers, and the August 1997 Microsoft financial agreement to invest one hundred and fifty million dollars in Apple, requiring that Apple make Internet Explorer the default web browser in new Mac OS distributions. The latest IE Mac release at that time was Internet Explorer version 3.0 for Macintosh, but Internet Explorer 4 was released later that year.

Microsoft succeeded in having ISPs and PC vendors distribute Internet Explorer to their customers instead of Netscape Navigator, mostly due to Microsoft using its leverage from Windows OEM licenses, and partly aided by Microsoft's investment in making IE brandable, such that a customized version of IE was offered. Also, web developers used proprietary, browser-specific extensions in web pages. Both Microsoft and Netscape were found guilty of supporting this, having added many proprietary HTML tags to their browsers, which forced users to choose between two competing and almost incompatible web browsers.

In March 1998, Netscape released most of the code base for Netscape Communicator under an open source license. The product, Netscape 5, used open-source community contributions, and was known as Mozilla, Netscape Navigator's original code name. Netscape programmers gave Mozilla a different GUI, releasing it as Netscape 6 and Netscape 7. After a long public beta test, Mozilla 1.0 was released on 5 June 2002. The same code-base, notably the Gecko layout engine, became the basis of independent applications, including Firefox and Thunderbird.

However, these web browsers took years to yield results. Meanwhile, America Online had bought Netscape, and released Netscape Navigator 6 from a pre-beta-quality form of the Mozilla codebase. This did nothing to win back users, who continued to migrate to Internet Explorer. On 28 December 2007, the Netscape developers announced that AOL had canceled development of Netscape Navigator, leaving it unsupported as of 1 March 2008.[12] Despite this, archived and unsupported versions of the browser remain available for download.

Release history

  • Mosaic Netscape 0.9 – October 13, 1994
  • Netscape Navigator 1.0 – December 15, 1994
  • Netscape Navigator 1.1 – March 1995
  • Netscape Navigator 1.22 – August 1995
  • Netscape Navigator 2.0 – March 1996[13]
  • Netscape Navigator 2.01 – March 18, 1996
  • Netscape Navigator 2.02
  • Netscape Navigator 3.0 – August 19, 1996
  • Netscape Navigator 3.01
  • Netscape Navigator 3.02
  • Netscape Navigator 3.03
  • Netscape Navigator 3.04 – October 4, 1997[14]
  • Netscape Navigator 4.0 – June 1997
  • Netscape Navigator 4.01
  • Netscape Navigator 4.02
  • Netscape Navigator 4.03
  • Netscape Navigator 4.04
  • Netscape Navigator 4.05
  • Netscape Navigator 4.06 – August 17, 1998
  • Netscape Navigator 4.07
  • Netscape Navigator 4.08 – November 9, 1998
  • Netscape Navigator 4.78 –
  • Netscape Navigator 4.79

From version 6 the name became "Netscape" dropping the "Navigator" portion from the title.

  • Netscape 6.00
  • Netscape 6.01
  • Netscape 6.1
  • Netscape 6.2
  • Netscape 6.2.1
  • Netscape 6.2.2
  • Netscape 6.2.3
  • Netscape 7.00
  • Netscape 7.01
  • Netscape 7.02
  • Netscape 7.1
  • Netscape 7.2
  • Netscape 8.0.2
  • Netscape
  • Netscape 8.0.4
  • Netscape 8.1
  • Netscape 8.1.2
  • Netscape 8.1.3

Version 9 is available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

  • Netscape 9.0
  • Netscape
  • Netscape
  • Netscape
  • Netscape
  • Netscape
  • Netscape – Last Official Release.

As per official announcement: "Official support ended on March 1st, 2008"[15]


Netscape has been criticized for not meeting then-current web standards, often lagging behind or supporting them very poorly or even incorrectly. This criticism wasn't very loud during the days of its popularity as web designers then often simply developed for Netscape Navigator, but came to be an increasing annoyance to web designers who wish to provide backward compatibility, most often with Netscape Navigator 4 and Netscape Communicator, to their web sites. Today, many web developers simply do not choose to support these old versions, due to their extremely small market share and lack of standardization as well as not being able to run on current machines.[citation needed]

Netscape's own contributions to the web of this sort haven't always been of frustration to web developers. JavaScript (which has little to do with Java) was, for example, submitted as a new standard to Ecma International, resulting in the ECMAScript specification. This move allowed it to be more easily supported by multiple web browsers and is today an established cross-browser scripting language, long after Netscape Navigator itself has dropped in popularity. Another example is the FRAME tag, that is also widely supported today, and even ended up becoming incorporated into official web standards such as the "HTML 4.01 Frameset" specification.

In a 2007 PC World column, the original Netscape Navigator was considered the "best tech product of all time" due to its impact on the Internet.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Netscape's Brief History Retrieved on 02-16-2009
  2. ^ Clark, Jim (1999). Netscape Time. St. Martin's Press. 
  3. ^ Tom Drapeau (December 28, 2007). "End of Support for Netscape web browsers". The Netscape Blog. Retrieved 2007-12-29. 
  4. ^ - Netscape
  5. ^ - Netscape
  6. ^ Demailly, Laurent (22 July 1996). "Netscape (in)Security (problems)". Archived from the original on 29 January 1998. Retrieved 15 October 2011. 
  7. ^ "Hackers Alert Netscape to Another Flaw". The New York Times. 26 September 1995. p. D19. Retrieved 15 October 2011. 
  8. ^ Ladd, Eric. "Using HTML 3.2, Java 1.1, and CGI; Ch. 13, Frames". Archived from the original on 30 October 2007. 
  9. ^ "Navigator Proxy Auto-Config File Format". Netscape Navigator Documentation. March 1996. Archived from the original on 18 December 2006. Retrieved 15 January 2011. 
  10. ^ Watson, Dave (21 July 2001). "A Quick Look at Netscape". The Southern California OS/2 User Group. Retrieved 16 August 2010. 
  11. ^ a b History of Internet Explorer
  12. ^ BBC News Article retrieved 29th February 2008
  13. ^
  14. ^ Shen, Antony (2 May 2009). "Netscape Browser Archive Complete List - Early Netscape Section". Retrieved 26 Mai 2011. 
  15. ^ "Software Releases :: The Netscape Archive". 
  16. ^ PC World - The 50 Best Tech Products of All Time

External links

Preceded by
not available
Netscape Navigator (1-4.08) Succeeded by
Netscape Communicator (4)

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