While you were busy surfing the Web using Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, or even a nascent Chrome on March 1, 2008, decision makers at AOL quietly discontinued support for the pioneering browser Netscape Navigator. By the time of its demise, Netscape’s market share was less than 1 percent of browser users, a remarkable decline for such an influential product.
At age 22, Marc Andreessen—a University of Illinois student—invented Mosaic, the first graphical Internet browser. Mosaic changed the “face of the Internet” (h/t to this “Glossary of Geek” video), making the Internet accessible outside the walls of academia. (Read this 1993 New York Times article for a fascinating look at how mysterious the Internet once was.)
The browser wars begin
However, Microsoft was working in the background, about to release Windows 95 … and, bundled with it, Internet Explorer. This led to the “browser wars” of the 1990s, which Microsoft ultimately won (acquiring antitrust charges along the way). AOL bought Netscape in November 1998, and the browser limped along through various releases until early 2008.
Still, all was not lost for the Netscape code: In January 1998, Netscape made its source code public, leading to the creation of the Mozilla Organization. This led to the release of Firefox in 2004. Today, Google Chrome dominates the marketplace, with 57 percent of users. Internet Explorer and its successor, Microsoft Edge, together have a market share of about 17 percent.
For an in-depth look at the rise and fall of Netscape, check out this oral history from the Internet History Podcast.
Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.