R.I.P. Netscape (1994-2008)
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AOL's eventual strategy had been to make Netscape an open source effort, fostering innovation and building community with the Mozilla Project. Unfortunately, it was a strategy that took many years to fully bear fruit. It was also a strategy that fundamentally changed what the Netscape browser was all about.
Instead of Netscape remaining a browser technology, Netscape became a browser brand. Instead of Netscape remaining an innovator, it became merely a delivery mechanism for technology that could be had directly from the true technology innovator -- Mozilla.
Certainly, the first few Mozilla.org releases were not as polished as what AOL initially made available to its Netscape users. In time, however, Mozilla's own star shined brighter than Netscape's.
This really shouldn't come as a surprise. Time and again, the technology market has proven that though brands are important, technology itself is the real brand. It's a lesson that IBM learned with Microsoft having control of the PC operating system and it's a lesson Yahoo learned from Google, which had once been the search technology underlying the Yahoo index.
Mozilla's development came while Internet Explorer lay relatively dormant to improvement, as Microsoft rested on its laurels.
Yet even as Firefox continued to innovate and gain ground against IE, its success never really helped Netscape, though. AOL, while, supportive of Mozilla, did little to further promote and expand the Netscape browser itself even with the renewed technology and enthusiasm behind Firefox.
Had there been some kind of direct correlation between Netscape and Firefox and an energetic, renewed push from AOL, Netscape could very well still live in 2008 and beyond.
Today, the Netscape brand still elicits nostalgia from those who hear the name. For many, Netscape had been their first browser and their first gateway onto the Web. Yet few can deny that while official support for the Netscape browser will end in 2008, Netscape as a technology has been gone a long time.
The heir to its legacy, Mozilla, has learned from the tragedy of its forebear.
Though Firefox is free, the modern Web environment has allowed Mozilla to make millions from the browser, thanks mostly to Google. And as an open source effort, vendors like Google, IBM and Red Hat have helped to make Firefox a strategic platform for their respective efforts.
By keeping Firefox a profitable, strategic technology, Mozilla may well avoid Netscape's fate. Ultimately, however, the success or failure of a vendor rests on its technology and its ability to innovate. Netscape sealed its fate when it stopped being a technology vendor and stopped innovating.
Goodbye, Netscape. You were my first, but I've moved on, and so has everyone else.