Wait… AOL Was Still Making A Netscape Browser?

from the those-7-users-must-be-upset dept

While AOL’s purchase of Time Warner is often considered one of the biggest M&A blunders of all time (and I’d still argue that the problem was in the execution, not the concept), it’s at least worth pointing out that prior to that acquisition, AOL made another huge blunder in purchasing Netscape for over $4 billion dollars in 1998, just as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was finally taking over Netscape’s marketshare (AOL apparently believes in the buy high, sell low philosophy). This seemed odd, even at the time, as AOL had long been using a modified version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as its browser of choice (even back when IE was awful compared to Netscape). Even after the acquisition, AOL continued to use IE as its browser choice, and about the only thing that Netscape was good for was allowing AOL to sue Microsoft for antitrust violations. Microsoft eventually paid $750 million to AOL to settle the charges, leading many to assume that AOL was then going to kill off Netscape. While Mozilla (which was effectively spun out of Netscape) continued to gain traction, it made little sense for AOL to keep offering a “Netscape” browser, even if built on Mozilla code. Yet, in 2004 we were surprised to hear that AOL was still releasing a new Netscape browser. Since then, we’d pretty much forgotten that AOL actually offered Netscape as a browser and had assumed that it had been killed off. While that may have been effectively true, the reality was that the company was still working on a Netscape browser… until now. AOL has officially announced that it will be ending support for the Netscape browser for the six or seven people who still use it. While it won’t impact very many people, it certainly is an “end of an era” type moment. While there may be some post mortems to suggest that Microsoft “killed” Netscape, the reality is that bad strategic decisions at Netscape (wanting to charge for the browser, getting distracted with other projects, bloat, bloat, bloat) were more to blame for its real demise a decade ago.

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Comments on “Wait… AOL Was Still Making A Netscape Browser?”

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34 Comments
Ima Fish (profile) says:

One thing you’re forgetting is that Netscape’s default homepage was the overwhelming number one portal on the net at the time. I’m not saying it was worth anywhere near 4 billion, but I’m assuming AOL wanted access to all of those eyes.

Still, you’d think 4 billion dollars could have built a site people would visit without it being hardwired into their browser.

AC says:

I loved NN back in the day, it was the first browser to show me the Internets. Hated to make the switch to IE a ‘few’ years back, but AOL effectively put all the nails in NN’s coffin over the years. If NN was still a stand-alone company, (sans the trying to charge for the browser) I believe that it would have been a very strong competitor to IE. I think I read somewhere in NN’s prime it held over 90% of the browsers used. Now it is at 0.06% What a shameful decline. NN should have seinfeld’ed out years ago.

Bailey (profile) says:

it was interesting from the inside

So prior to AOL using the modified version of IE it used its own mostly owned browser. I wish I could remember the name of the company that it purchased the code from, but it’s been a few years.

At this time Netscape was the dominant browser, and Microsoft was just starting to really get into the game. AOL was taking flack for its browser software since they didn’t have the knowledge/resource to be an effective player in that arena. What they did have is an amazing number of people that used their product. I know people tend to forget how big AOL was back in the day, it was THE way for the majority of people to get online.

So AOL started looking for a replacement to their browser and struck up a deal with Microsoft. Microsoft would be the default internal browser and in exchange Microsoft would put AOL’s logo and software on the desktop of computers being sold. Also remember that at time the individual retailers had no control over the software that came bundled with Windows, what Microsoft wanted Microsoft got.

This had two consequences. First, this helped drive AOL membership to the detriment of Microsoft’s own attempt at an online service. Secondly, this single handedly pushed IE into the dominant browser position, to illustrate I remember one of the AOL honchos telling me that at any one time 80-90 percent of people on the internet were accessing it through AOL( I would say this was about 98-99 timeframe.)

About this same time period there were a couple of lawsuits that were brought up including one that was aimed at forcing Microsoft to allow the retailers to modify the desktop as they saw fit. AOL immediately struck deals with those retailers to have AOL, once again, on the desktop. Microsoft wasn’t to happy about this particular deal, they had also started to bundle the browser with their software so their wasn’t the need to use AOL and as the vector. But it wasn’t clear as to who would win the particular lawsuit and AOL was adamant on keeping their brand in peoples mind.

The solution? By purchasing Netscape when they did they had a lever against Microsoft. If they had switched out their browser to Netscape, Microsoft would have lost a considerable amount of the browser market, possibly sending it back to being a minority player.
That’s my recollection of things as an ex-AOL employee of 9 years. I wasn’t in a position of leadership nor involved in any of these decisions so some of my facts may be a bit off.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: it was interesting from the inside

Bailey – hello from another ex-AOL’er (worked on AOL.COM 🙂

>> So prior to AOL using the modified version of IE it used its own mostly owned browser. I wish I could remember the name of the company that it purchased the code from, but it’s been a few years.

You may be thinking of the NaviSoft browser (NaviPress). I think AOL bought
Navisoft primarily for NaviServer (which became AOLServer, which
handles Tcl procs in the server and and embedded Tcl in web pages.
To this day I am trying to forget Tcl!

See http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0REL/is_n9_v95/ai_17510598
for more on NaviSoft …

Another side to this story was the decision to have AOL.Com use
AOLServer, as opposed to the Netscape server or Apache. The
Netscape server would have been a good choice in ’96-’97.
Apache would have been much better. Sticking with an oddball
server that only had a handful of people working on it internally,
as opposed to drawing upon what the internet community was
doing at the time (Apache) hampered AOL in many ways. It
made it hard to find people to work on the service, for one thing.

Nino says:

Hard to compete

When everyone that buys a new Windows PC connects to the internet and the IE icon is just sitting there begging to be clicked, it’s hard to compete with that. Most dabblers are not going to go download Netscape or FireFox when the browser they already use by default works “fine”. I’m not bashing Microsoft here, it’s just the way it is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Remember that there was more to the Netscape acquisition than the browser – someone already mentioned the portal, which was huge for AOL, but there also was the Netscape Server Software. What became of this, since AOL didnt want to be in the web/app/directory server business really, was the “Sun:Netscape Alliance” called iPlanet. Eventually, the entire iPlanet product portfolio (as well as the employees) was sold out to Sun, and that became the Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) platform that included the web, app, directory, integration, etc server products. Sun still develops these and has been very successful with those products, even though they don’t carry the same name-recognition as WebLogic and WebSphere (of course WebLogic coming from BEA, started by 3 ex-Sun employees)

(Full disclosure – I am a former Sun employee)

Nick Overstreet (profile) says:

Re: What's the context for this story?

I guess it would’ve helped had you read the story.

I remember the arguments my friends and I would have in High School, Netscape versus IE. I was a major IE supported and despised all that Netscape was. Than AOL bought them and I rubbed it in all my buddies faces.
Now I argue with anyone who is still using IE and not Firefox or even Opera.
Oh how the times change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hmmmmmmmmm, AOL initially funded the Mozilla Foundation.

Now…we have an essentially non-profit entity called the Mozilla Corporation(owned by Mozilla Foundation) competing with the corporate world.

For AOL? I am not sure what kind of benefits they get but they did a nice thing for a public by creating the organization that would eventually gave us Firefox.

pointman says:

THAT'S an interesting rewrite of recent history...

While there may be some post mortems to suggest that Microsoft “killed” Netscape, the reality is that bad strategic decisions at Netscape (wanting to charge for the browser, getting distracted with other projects, bloat, bloat, bloat) were more to blame for its real demise a decade ago.

Sounds to me like someone has had their air supply cut off for awhile…

–pointman

ClosedEyesSeeing says:

about:Mozilla

And so at last the beast fell and the unbelievers rejoiced.
But all was not lost, for from the ash rose a great bird.
The bird gazed down upon the unbelievers and cast fire
and thunder upon them. For the beast had been
reborn with its strength renewed, and the
followers of Mammon cowered in horror.

from The Book of Mozilla, 7:15

NaughtyKP (user link) says:

Netscape is still awesome...

Being a vista user I’ve had nothing but trouble with browsers and netscape seems to be the only decent featured one THAT ACTUALLY LOADS quickly and works. FF 3 used up too much ram, Opera was just plain weird, Chrome was buggy and Safari was slow and the graphics killed my already slow Vista aero pc.

Even though they ended support for Netscape 2 years ago, I still use it. Recently upgraded from 8.14 to 9.0.6. It has support for FF 2 extensions which is pretty good.

So for those of us who have a computer which can’t handle FF, I think Netscape 9 is the next best option.

And I loved Netscape 8’s bloat. The extra features give it more value

Just An Oldfart says:

this one

It is amusing watching educated children 30 years my junior, laughing at grand ma and her netscape on dial up. DSL is two line dial up that never hangs up. and cable modems sooner or later end up at a phone line so does that two way radio(cellphone). weather the line is copper or glass fibre, it is all phone company hardware. just remember that under every super highway, it is still just a DIRT ROAD.
I Still have most of my computers, and a collection of vintage software. the original CHICAGO ON-LINE SOFTWARE (The name on America On Line’s Birth Certificate} was an U N I X interface that conected you to a Bulitin board on just one computer. the next step was to conect to A.R.P.A. ( the innernetzz to ya all. I could go into the whole online service verses I.S.P thing but enough messing with you all.
……………That was A.O.L……. Now for the Browsers………………..
Just as Every Car has some type of frame attached to the wheels. One piece {uni_body} or two {body on Frame} it is still steel. Moz. is the steel that they all start with,
EVERY Browser is Based on the Original Mozilla code. yes even the first I.E. browser {uni-body} was MOZ. as was Netscape. (Body on Frame} and they Still Are. even if most folks don’t know how it started, don’t mean it aint true…. if ya learn a little programing you can make any browser work as you wish. and port any feature you like from one to another.

best of luck to you all.
P. S.
I hope this makes you THINK, instead of making you mad.
wiki’s by B.S. artists for B.S. artists…
seeee ya.

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