by Mike Masnick
Fri, Dec 28th 2007 12:17pm
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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