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Browser innovation is dead – Andreessen

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Netscape founder Marc Andreessen has taken a potshot at the product that earned him his fortune. The former Illinois student commercialized Tim Berners Lee's web browser first with Mosaic, then took the team with him to found Netscape.

But Andreessen says that "that there hasn't been any innovation on the browser in the last five years" and doesn't see any in the next five years.

"Navigation is an embarrassment. Using bookmarks and back and forth buttons - we had about eighteen different things we had in mind for the browser," he told an industry audience in London yesterday.

However in this interview, a younger Andreessen explained why.

"Basically we took the minimalist approach, as we did with Mosaic. With the interface we tried to make sure there was a minimal amount of stuff other than the Net-based information itself. It would draw out that information, make it possible for people to focus on that information, and get rid of all the crap that usually clutters applications," he told the Smithsonian Institute's Oral History project in 1995.

Indeed both Mosaic and Netscape browsers separated out (or lost) the authoring functionality that was part of the first CERN web browser, and the simplicity and bookmark management played a huge part in the success of these products.

If today's mass market browsers doesn't showcase much innovation, perhaps that's the mass market doesn't want them, preferring familiarity and simplicity. Or perhaps Andreessen is a secret Internet Explorer user. While IE has added nothing since version 4.0 in 1997 - six years ago - the Opera browser has added a number of usability features, evolving with each release. Or perhaps people make good choices. At large, perhaps it's because the web is no longer seen as anything more than an expensive and often cumbersome tool, and not the epiphany we were led to expect. A means to an end, not the end in itself.

Andreessen left Netscape after its merger with AOL in 1999. Having once derided Windows as a poorly debugged device driver loader, Andreessen this Spring saw Netscape's parent AOL sign a seven year deal with Microsoft for the right to continue using Internet Explorer as the core of its client software. ®

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