This was once the way to see the World Wide Web. In the mid-1990s, as the web began to take off, the Netscape Navigator browser was used by more than 90% of people online.
The web began to grow so fast partly because Netscape Navigator made it so easy for ordinary people to reach it. No longer did you have to be a Linux geek or an academic. You could get the software for free on a floppy disk or, later, a CD, and you were away. No longer did you have to type in code, you could use your graphical user interface instead. Even if you were a complete novice, you could install Netscape on your Windows-based personal computer and sail away.
One of the coders of Netscape Navigator was Marc Andreessen. As a student, he had co-authored Mosaic, the first popular web browser, while working part-time at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois.
After he graduated, he worked on Netscape. The first version of Navigator came out in November 1994. Users loved it. For one thing, it showed you bits of pages before the entire page had downloaded which, in the days of dial-up, meant you could be staring at a blank screen for a long while.
People put little notices on their websites: “Best viewed in Netscape Navigator“.
Then came the browser wars.
First of all, Microsoft, who were on the back foot when it came to the web, made Internet Explorer free in a Windows 95 add-on program. Next, it started bundling IE with its new operating system, Windows 95. When you bought a computer, there was IE already on it. Why go to the trouble of seeking out another browser?
Netscape sued. The Department of Justice investigated Microsoft on antitrust grounds. Netscape won the battle when, in 1999, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that Microsoft had acted as an illegal monopoly.
It was too late, though. Microsoft had won the war.
In 1998, AOL bought Netscape.
A decade later, in 2008, they stopped supporting it.
The codebase that was Netscape lives on in the Mozilla Firefox browser, but Netscape itself is now dead. (Although some parts of NASA, at the time of writing, think it’s alive.)
In November 1992, there were twenty-six websites in the world.
You can still see the world’s first website, which lists them.
By 1998, there were millions.
It was Netscape Navigator that helped make it so.