A Sad Milestone: AOL To Discontinue Netscape Browser Development

Please observe a moment of silence for the Netscape browser. Netscape Navigator, the browser that launched the commercial Internet in October 1994, will die on February 1, 2008. AOL, which acquired Netscape in November 1998 for $4.2 billion, will announce today that they will discontinue development of the browser, currently on version 9.

In an email exchange yesterday with Tom Drapeau, Director of AOL/Netscape development, he said that only a handful of AOL engineers are still tasked with keeping the browser updated. Most of their efforts have been aimed at creating a Netscape-skinned version of Firefox with the Netscape look and feel.

The team has been unable to gain any significant market share against Microsoft Internet Explorer. In fact, recent surveys suggest that Netscape currently has only 0.6% market share among browsers, compared to IE’s 77.35% and Firefox’s 16.01%. This, of course, is the same browser that once claimed more than 90 percent of the market, sparking the browser wars of the 1990s and the subsequent Microsoft antitrust trial.

Drapeau says AOL’s transition into an ad-supported web business leaves little room for any real effort at maintaining and evolving the Netscape Browser.

He also points to the success of the non-profit Mozilla foundation, which spun off of Netscape in February 1998 with $2 million in funding from Netscape and an additional $300,000 from Mitch Kapor. Firefox, which is part of Mozilla, brought in nearly $70 million in 2006 revenues, mostly from a search deal with Google. In a sense, Netscape lives on through the open-source efforts of Mozilla and Firefox.

Support for existing versions of Netscape Navigator will cease on February 1, 2008. After that, users can visit the UFAQ and the Netscape Community Forum for support.

AOL is also setting up a Netscape Archive where users will be able to download old versions of Netscape, without any support.

I sadly place the first browser I ever used into the TechCrunch DeadPool.