Depending on how far back you go with the internet, it’s pretty likely that you used to use Netscape Navigator to browser the web. Well, that experience is on its way to join hula hoops and the Charleston in the history hall of fame: AOL has announced that they are finally killing the last active Navigator development. There will be some support around through January, but the official recommendation is: switch to Firefox.
That makes sense, of course, since Firefox is the fruit of the last thing Netscape did before they got bought by AOL – spinning off the open-source Mozilla Foundation, which is still going strong. Indeed, with the imminent release of Firefox 3 things are looking brighter than ever for the open source version, which provides the most serious competition around for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
The AOL/Netscape portal page will survive, but that really shares nothing other than a name and a color scheme with the browser. Overall, the impact of this change, in 2008, should be minimal for web workers: most of us have long since moved on to other browsers, and Navigator’s market share was so miniscule that it wasn’t even worth testing pages with.
Some people will ultimately blame this disappearance on Microsoft, who famously threatened to “cut off the oxygen supply” of Netscape, driving it into AOL’s arms as a matter of corporate survival. But at least as much blame must attach to Netscape’s own decision to abandon market momentum by rewriting a successful codebase from scratch. Either way, it’s worth taking a moment to consider that the difference between market leader and historical footnote for web firms is measured in years, not decades.