Release of Netscape Navigator 1.0 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The release of the first commercial Web browser, Netscape Navigator 1.0, helped to shape the future of the Internet and drove the technologies that became commonplace on the World Wide Web.

Summary of Event

In the early 1990’s, the Internet was mainly a place where computer experts, government agencies, and academics shared information. Most of the searching and data transfer tools were text-based and were not user friendly. NCSA Telnet, developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), was one of the main tools for users to access information on the Internet. Programmers at the NCSA wished to create a program that would take advantage of the newly developed World Wide Web and allow themselves to access information more easily. The program they developed was called Mosaic. Some of the programmers saw the potential of the Internet and wanted to develop the program so that the average person could use it as well. NCSA and its programmers had differing views on how Mosaic should develop, and they soon parted ways. Computing, applied;Web browsers Web browsers Netscape Communications Corporation Netscape Navigator Internet;Web browsers World Wide Web;browsers [kw]Release of Netscape Navigator 1.0 (Dec. 15, 1994) [kw]Netscape Navigator 1.0, Release of (Dec. 15, 1994) Computing, applied;Web browsers Web browsers Netscape Communications Corporation Netscape Navigator Internet;Web browsers World Wide Web;browsers [g]North America;Dec. 15, 1994: Release of Netscape Navigator 1.0[09050] [g]United States;Dec. 15, 1994: Release of Netscape Navigator 1.0[09050] [c]Communications and media;Dec. 15, 1994: Release of Netscape Navigator 1.0[09050] [c]Computers and computer science;Dec. 15, 1994: Release of Netscape Navigator 1.0[09050] [c]Science and technology;Dec. 15, 1994: Release of Netscape Navigator 1.0[09050] Clark, James H. Andreessen, Marc Barksdale, Jim

On December 15, 1994, the Netscape Navigator browser was released after months of development by the Netscape Communications Corporation. Some of the coders, many of them hired outside of the NCSA’s Mosaic team, worked 120-hour weeks in order to finish Netscape Navigator and its accompanying server software. The browser was hugely successful, and within four months, 75 percent of the people on the Internet were using Netscape.

Netscape helped to define the modern browser by rendering Web pages with formatted text, pictures, and hyperlinks that connected to other data on the Internet. It introduced on-the-fly Web page browsing, in which the text would load before the pictures—a beneficial feature for users who did not have the transfer rates offered by modern Internet connections. The Mosaic browser, on which Netscape was based, required an entire Web page to load before it would be displayed. Netscape was also developed so that it worked on the major platforms of the time: UNIX, Apple, and Windows operating systems.

The founders of Netscape Communications Corporation were James H. Clark and Marc Andreessen. Clark founded the successful company Silicon Graphics, Inc., and Andreessen was the lead UNIX coder from the original Mosaic team. Andreessen was responsible for the main split from NCSA, envisioning an Internet that was not dependent on the proprietary networks of the time: America Online (AOL), Prodigy, and CompuServe. He thought that the ability of the casual computer user to access the Internet would be driven by an easily usable browser. Initially, Netscape offered its browser free of charge, with users agreeing to pay for it after ninety days had passed. Some users opted to use the software without paying, but there were enough paying customers that Netscape collected $365,000 for the product within two weeks of its release.

Netscape Navigator was released solely over the Internet and became the first software successfully distributed over the Internet. Netscape demonstrated to the business world that the Internet was a viable place for commercial ventures. It used its success to promote its own encrypted business transaction server. Realizing that their success in the business of the Internet would eventually create competition from Microsoft, Microsoft Corporation Andreessen and Clark moved to try to keep ahead of Microsoft technologically. Netscape sought to saturate the market quickly and pushed speed in product development and company growth.

Netscape hired a public relations person to promote Andreessen’s image as an up-and-coming whiz kid and Clark as the business-savvy expert. Netscape hired Jim Barksdale, who was the chief executive officer (CEO) of McCaw Cellular before joining Netscape as CEO in January of 1995 to help steer the company’s development. Andreessen and Clark ultimately wanted Netscape to be seen as more than just a browser company and were having trouble defining Netscape’s market, even though the second quarter showed a $12 million income. The challenge Netscape defined for itself was to anticipate market needs and to address those needs before Microsoft could.

Netscape made its initial public offering (IPO) on November 8, 1995. It was considered an early offering in the business world; most companies wait at least five years, whereas Netscape had waited eighteen months. Netscape had yet to make a profit but chose to open at $28 per share. It closed the day at $71 per share and became the largest opening day for a company to date, with the company’s worth jumping to $4.4 billion. Wall Street saw Netscape as the company that would promote the idea of the Internet to the public. The astounding success of Netscape’s IPO helped to fuel the technology boom in Silicon Valley.

Version 2.0 introduced frames, Java, and JavaScript to the browser. Netscape also added file transfer, newsgroup, and e-mail capabilities to make it a business-class product. Netscape also introduced cookies, which were highly controversial at the time. Cookies are packets of text sent to a browser from a server and then sent back when that browser returns to the site. They are used to track and authenticate users and to save user preferences. Online privacy advocates were leery of the use of cookies, but ultimately cookies became commonplace on the Internet.

Version 3.0 of Netscape Navigator, which was released in the fall of 1996, introduced column layout for Web pages and plug-ins for the browser. A gold version of the browser was also released that bundled an e-mail program, a newsgroup reader, and a Web page editor. The bundle was not well integrated and caused some instabilities that made it crash periodically on some machines. Many critics cite this version as the point where Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Internet Explorer (IE) browser, also at version 3.0, caught up technologically with Navigator.

Microsoft and Netscape became embroiled in what are known as the “browser wars.” Netscape renamed version 4.0 of its browser, released in mid-1997, to “Communicator” in an effort to shift the product’s focus to the emerging intranet market. Netscape added cascading style sheets (CSS) support and the LAYER element for precise positioning in Web pages. Netscape offered the suite of applications instead of the browser only. Unfortunately, the renaming of the browser diluted its name recognition with the public, and version 4.0 turned out to be the least stable of the versions thus far. As a result of aggressive marketing and the fact that its browser was free, Microsoft’s IE market share jumped to 35 percent. Version 5.0 of Netscape was never released since it was viewed internally as too buggy. In January of 1998, Netscape announced that its product would be open source and that it would no longer charge for its product.

Netscape laid off twenty-four hundred employees in early 1998, and its stock dropped to $18 per share. March of 1998 saw the official release of the source code. AOL America Online acquired Netscape in November, 2000. Netscape 6.0 was released at that time but was far from stable and only served to drive customers further from the product.

Significance

Despite its browser’s demise, Netscape brought about profound changes in the public perception and development of the Internet. By initially offering its browser for free, developing for multiple platforms, and creating an easy-to-use program, Netscape made the Internet accessible to the casual computer user and helped to popularize it. The company also broke the trend of the creation of proprietary networks. Once users had a means to access the Internet, they no longer had to pay subscription fees to access data.

Many of the features that Netscape Navigator was criticized for incorporating, such as frames, cookies, and JavaScript, eventually became widely accepted standards for browsers. Netscape’s success demonstrated that the Internet is a viable place for commercial ventures. The company developed the precursor technologies that allowed companies to transact business on the Web safely and efficiently. Netscape helped to fuel the Silicon Valley technological boom and closely mirrored the rise and fall of the dot-com bubble. Computing, applied;Web browsers Web browsers Netscape Communications Corporation Netscape Navigator Internet;Web browsers World Wide Web;browsers

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Quittner, Joshua, and Michelle Slatalla. Speeding the Net: The Inside Story of Netscape and How It Challenged Microsoft. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998. Story of the rise and fall of Netscape through its development, growth, and subsequent rivalry with Microsoft, ending with the releasing of Netscape’s source code.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sherman, Josepha. The History of the Internet. New York: Franklin Watts, 2003. History of the development of the Internet from its beginnings as a military computer network to its present uses. Covers the people involved with its development and includes time lines.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallace, James. Overdrive: Bill Gates and the Race to Control Cyberspace. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997. Microsoft’s race to catch up to Netscape, its battles over antitrust with the government, and its eventual success with the Internet.

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