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AOL on Friday stopped development of the Netscape browser, saying the respected brand that launched the commercial Internet in 1994 had little chance of ever regaining market share against its archrival Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
The Web portal, which took over Netscape Navigator in the $4.2 billion acquisition of Netscape Communications in 1999, said development on the browser had recently devolved into a "handful of engineers tasked with creating a skinned version of Firefox with a few extensions." Firefox is the open source browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation.
"While internal groups within AOL have invested a great deal of time and energy in attempting to revive Netscape Navigator, these efforts have not been successful in gaining market share from Microsoft's Internet Explorer," Tom Drapeau, director of development, said in a Netscape blog post.
While once commanding 90% of the browser market, Netscape Navigator now accounts for less than 1%, and AOL had no interest in spending what it would take to revive the brand. Instead, the company, which was once a subscriber-supported portal, preferred to spend its resources on its transition into an ad-supported Web business. The change left "little room for the size of investment needed to get the Netscape browser to a point many of its fans expect it to be," Drapeau said.
Instead, AOL said it would leave it to the Mozilla Foundation to do battle against IE. When AOL acquired Netscape, the latter company was working on converting its browser into open source software that was later called Mozilla and became the foundation of Firefox.
Mozilla also was the underpinning of version 6 of the Netscape browser released in 2000. The Mozilla Foundation was formed in 2003 and AOL continued to develop versions of Netscape based on the work of the foundation.
"Given AOL's current business focus and the success the Mozilla Foundation has had in developing critically acclaimed products, we feel it's the right time to end development of Netscape-branded browsers, hand the reins fully to Mozilla, and encourage Netscape users to adopt Firefox," Drapeau said.
As of November 2007, IE accounted for 77.35% of the market, and Firefox 16.01%, according to Internet metrics firm Net Applications. Netscape had 0.6%.
AOL planned to release security patches for Netscape Navigator 9, the latest version of the browser, until Feb. 1, 2008. After that, all active product support would end for all versions of the browsers. AOL, however, planned to post a Netscape Archive link for people who wanted to download versions of Netscape without support.
Besides the archive, two other sites offering information would continue to exist: UFAQ and the Netscape Community Forum, AOL said. Netscape.com would also remain live as a general use Internet portal.
The Netscape browser made the commercial Web possible by providing a ubiquitous platform to view and interact with Websites. The browser was based on the Mosaic browser developed by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina at the University of Illinois. Andreessen and James Clark, former patriarch of SGI, founded Netscape Communications in 1994.
The Web software maker was among the stars in the dot-com era of the mid- to late 1990s, becoming the most successful public stock offering of its time. Netscape Communications forced Microsoft to restructure its entire product line to become Internet compliant.
Microsoft's tactics in grabbing market share from Netscape Navigator with IE was one of the main issues in the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust cast against Microsoft. The software maker was found to have abused its Windows monopoly and was forced to make changes in its business practices.