After 15 Years, Microsoft Finally Gets Its Hands On Netscape

The history of Netscape is a lot like that of the phoenix:

  1. the company started in 1994,
  2. released the first successful web browser a year later,
  3. made billions,
  4. attracted competition from Microsoft in the form of Internet Explorer,
  5. lost that war in 1997, and
  6. finally, just four years after its IPO, capitulated and sold to AOL.

But, like the phoenix, that’s not where the story ends: just before selling to AOL, the source code was openly released to the public, where it languished in the mediocrity it had become. A few years later, a couple of developers at AOL-owned Netscape began trying to improve the bloated code base and created a project called Phoenix. That name got into trademark trouble with another company, so they changed it to Firebird; but, it turned out that name was taken by another piece of software, so in 2003 they changed it one last time, to Firefox.

Mozilla Phoenix Logo, which later became Mozilla Firefox


It turned out Firefox was trademarked too, but in the meantime, AOL had created a non-profit called the Mozilla Foundation to handle such matters. (The name Mozilla is a contraction of “Mosaic Killer”, and was Netscape’s code name all along — Mosaic, being the original web browser and competitor which Netscape did indeed kill. However, Microsoft then licensed Mosaic and turned it into Internet Explorer.)

Firefox became a hit, and is probably the most widely-known open source project ever created. Mozilla continues to develop it, and in fact most of its budget comes from Google, as compensation for making them the default search engine in Firefox. Over the next few years, Firefox was single-handedly responsible for eroding the almost complete monopoly over the web which Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had come to enjoy.


In 2008, Google released their own web browser called Chrome. (They’ve also continued to fund Firefox all along.) Since then, Internet Explorer’s share has been further cut in half, from 70% before Chrome was released. Yesterday, however, AOL announced that it sold a billion dollars’ worth of patents to Microsoft; word has it that among those patents are ones from Netscape. If true, Microsoft now holds patents to its web browsing competitor Firefox, which is funded by Google, which in turn makes the remaining of the three major browsers. And that would mean that the byzantine history of web browsers — Mosaic got killed by Netscape, which got killed by Internet Explorer (which came from Mosaic), which got killed by Firefox (which came from Netscape), whose patents are now owned by Microsoft — is going to keep getting more interesting

One last thing worth mentioning is that the guy who created Netscape, Marc Andreessen, became a multi-millionaire from doing so and now invests his money into tech startups for a living. His most lucrative one: an early investment in Facebook.

From All Things D, via Slashdot

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