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Netscape no more

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on May 2, 2008
(Issue 2618, Alternative (and Free) Business Applications)

The end came quietly – as usually happens in the world of computers and technology.

There are few spectacular deaths in the world of technology – if a company goes out of business or a product is dropped, it's because it already ceased being relevant to potential customers some time ago.

And so on Feb. 1, AOL – recent parent company of Netscape – dropped all support for the Netscape browser. (You can read Netscape's official blog entry about the development.)

Which is too bad – because the latest version of Netscape,, was a nice package. As easy to use as Firefox (with which it shared an engine) or Internet Explorer, Netscape 9 had by far the best password and security manager of any current generation Web browser.

Anyone who surfed the Web before 1998 undoubtedly used one of Netscape's early browsers. Netscape 3.x was the de facto standard for many years, until Microsoft began shipping every copy of Windows with Internet Explorer built in.

But Netscape was as responsible as any company for the explosion in popularity and usability of the World Wide Web in the mid- to late 1990s. With its intuitive Web browser and its own home page ( that featured regularly updated links to a "Cool Site of the Day" and a most popular sites list, it made finding one's way around the then-new Web a whole lot easier than it would have been otherwise.

And Netscape was rewarded handsomely, with more than a 90 percent market share of browsers (it helped that Netscape released its browsers for a wide variety of operating systems). But then, like other once-dominant tech companies like Commodore, Atari or Lotus, Netscape found itself unable to sustain its early success.

In recent years, Netscape – after being bought up by AOL – was a big contributor to open-source browser projects, using the Mozilla engine as the basis for the last three generations of the Netscape browser.

Indeed, the increasingly popular Firefox (if only because it's ever so much more secure to hostile attacks than Microsoft's porous IE) is probably 90 percent identical to the last version of Netscape.

For those of us who can't quite let go of Netscape, you can still download the last build, plus versions 4, 6, 7 and 8 (I don't believe there was ever a Netscape 5 released) at (use the anonymous login). Or you can be more practical (as I have) and grab a Netscape 4 theme for Firefox; it makes Firefox look like Netscape 4, right down to the stars and comet moving behind the giant N in the activity panel.