It was 20 years ago on Monday that the first commercial web browser Netscape Navigator was released. Still in its infancy at the time, the web had yet to become the dominant form of communication that it is today. One cannot underestimate clearly how significant this release was or how far we have come on the web since those days.
I don’t remember the release at all and it wasn’t until 1997 that I began to use the internet regularly on Mac and PC’s that were in our computer labs at university.
Created by a 6 month old company called Mosaic at the time, Netscape Navigator allowed users with a 14.4 kb modem to work with the Internet interactively. I was fascinated by being able to surf the web to websites and get information. I also tried some early search engines like Yahoo, Hotbot, Lycos, Webcrawler and others. I hadn’t discovered Google yet and wouldn’t use it regularly for another few years.
My first home modem was a US Robotics Fax 14.4k modem. The 14.4 connection speed is laughable now but didn’t seem so slow. High speed internet was a still a few years away for the average consumer. Dial up connections plugged your home phone line and were painful when downloading images but it was the best we had. It wasn’t until 2000 that I got ADSL from Telus.
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) was the next browser to emerge and only a few years later, Microsoft and Netscape were locked in a bitter battle over who would become the dominant browser of choice for people. Microsoft had a huge market share at the time in the operating system (OS) market and was able to bundle IE for free with Windows. That killed any hope Netscape had of holding its place as a dominant tool on the web since most people used Windows as an OS on their computers and IE was already there for them to use.
As the browser wars raged, Netscape was acquired by AOL in 1998 and existed for another 9 years before it was scrapped in 2007. By 2007 Mozilla, whose popular browser Firefox built on Netscape technology, started to chip away at IE’s dominance and provided a solid alternative for surfing the web. Apple’s Safari browser was another option for Mac users as well.