Netscape, 1994-2008

A Web browser bows out as a data boom rumbles on

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A Web browser bows out …

Feb. 1 marks the end of Netscape Navigator, the first commercial browser, 13 years after it sparked the dotcom boom.

The computer program will still work. Retro romantics can even download a copy. But AOL, which has looked after the historic browser during its slow skid to a halt, will no longer support it and will stop releasing technical or security updates.

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Nescape trotted out in 1994 – a time when modems squealed and the consumer Internet was little more than an electronic postal service. While not the first browser, Netscape is seen by many Web historians as the evangelist that the Internet needed. Mosaic had made some inroads among researchers. But Netscape turned everyday computers into portals. Suddenly, the World Wide Web was within easy reach.

Thus began the dotcom age, and the gold rush that swept through Silicon Valley and Wall Street in the late 1990s. Nine months after its launch, Netscape had $20 million in sales and a market value of $2 billion.

But Netscape's dominance among browsers was short-lived. In 1995, Microsoft released Internet Explorer, which came bundled with each copy of Windows. Explorer blasted from 0 to 60 percent market share in just four years – and hit 95 percent by 2002. Despite tweaks, Netscape could never keep up and has been running on empty ever since. (See chart, right.)

Netscape's story now becomes part of digital lore. Before its release there had been rumors that companies would launch their own Internets, parallel networks that were similar but independent, like incompatible operating systems. People flocked to Netscape, and unwittingly solidified its vision of a single, global network. In Netscape's wake, AOL suggests users switch to its free, open-source successor, Firefox, which is now making small gains.

...as a data boom rumbles on

Ever since Netscape triggered mainstream web adoption in 1994, the Internet has continued to swell. It took a decade after the browser's launch to reach 50 million domain names – and nearly 50 million new sites went online in 2007 alone, according to Netcraft, an Internet service company in Britain.

Rising consumption of Web video, and more file-sharing, will nearly double worldwide Internet traffic every two years, predicts Cisco Systems, in San Jose, Calif. By 2011, global traffic will reach 7.8 million terabytes per month. (That's the equivalent of 2 trillion songs or more than 8 trillion novels every 30 days.)

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