Netscape – we hardly
knew missed you
Letters re: AOL kills Netscape
Last week AOL jettisoned its Netscape browser brand, throwing the development team overboard with a $2 million lifebelt. Mozilla and its derivatives, of course, will live on, as long as there's a body prepared to maintain and develop the code. But it marks a watershed because AOL was a multinational corporation with a worldwide user base that for five years believed it could develop a mass market browser.
So what killed the noble project - poor code, or poor management? Here's a selection of your views.
Your piece is an unfortunate caricature that, while somewhat entertaining, mischaracterizes the contribution, the problem, the process, and the potential. Your idea of a browser as merely a window onto the web is at the root of your misguided thesis - many Reg readers, including Microsoft, have long seen the browser as an alternative execution environment - an alternative to the Windows Desktop for a world of users much more encompassing than my grandmother (she's dead).
The "great experiment" surely failed Time Warner and the 50 coders that lost their jobs, but the Phoenix, aka Firebird, lives. Your piece amounts to what you Brits call pointless "willy waving".
I was a AOL call center worker at Jacksonville, FL from in 2001. I was specifically in the saves department tasked to get people that were fed up with AOL to stay just a bit longer.
Miserable fucking job! I was there when the entire Jacksonville call center was taken off-line for half a day to participate in a real-time satellite fed conference with Steve Case and the AOL big-wigs discussing the new merger with Time-Warner. During all the bullshit about the synergies with the companies, the one thing that was mentioned that brought the entire call center to a rousing ovation, many standing up as well, was the announcement that the underlying browser technology of the AOL experience was to be shifted from Microsoft IE to Netscape.
More bullshit ensued about Gekko rendering technology, less breakage of the AOL browser, BLAH, BLAH....
Of course just a few days ago I saw where AOL was dropping Netscape from that option under AOL and now your article as well. I am a die-hard capitalist....but unethical, lying, bastard capitalism is really no better than socialism. And it makes America, arguably the last best bastion of capitalism, look at best hypocritical. Once again, well done, great article.
AOL have always been the MacDonald's of the internet. Their agenda is the bottom line. I don't believe they have any view beyond that.
Netscape isn't their first scalp, and I don't suppose it will be their last. In the 1990's they did exactly the same thing to CompuServe. They purchased it, they creamed off as much of its user base as they easily could, and then they turned it into another AOL Happy Meal. Pretty much indistinguishable from everything else they serve.
There was no thought then for the majesty of the CompuServe Forums that even all these years later remain wholly unequaled despite the advances in the physical medium of the Internet.
I certainly don't believe the Internet has grown short of tools that can delight, what it has really wasted is the original non-commercial bed-rock that could inspire.
Don't look to AOL. It never was a guardian. It is no fallen angel, it has no concept of majesty. It crawled out of the commercial swamp.
In terms of who's at fault, I think it's both on AOL and the developers.
AOL could've used their user base as leverage against Microsoft, and for some stupid reason did nothing. That would've forced Microsoft to improve that piece of crap called IE. They had their chance and blew it.
I strongly agree with your point that the developers were writing vanity code. From what I heard about the Mozilla project, it was all hype and very little substance. A lot of the people involved had big egos and it doesn't surprise me that in the end, it was a complete flop. I decided to download and try it out at one point, and it was basically an unstable and unusable piece of crap. I gave up on it and went to Opera.
In my opinion, Netscape/Mozilla has been dead for 4 years and living on life support. I became an Opera user for roughly 4 years ago and haven't looked back.
While Mozilla is alive, well, and will be packaged with every *nix distro forever, the first thing I do after a Linux install is install Opera.
If you look at your own article you'll see the coders couldn't have made any difference in the outcome.
I'm sure that as part of the settlement (.75 G$ cash), AOL was required to sign up for IE, and probably buried in the document, further covered in the usual confidentiality terms, is the requirement that they drop Netscape. How could it not be?
Even if the Mozilla crew had come up with Opera, AOL was such an overblown shell of a company that it would be Opera being killed today, instead of Netscape. TimeWarner/AOL need the cash.
Consider the possiblities further; even if Mozilla were Opera-quality code (and not open source), it would likely be going private today (instead of being truly set free), the same way as Corel/WordPerfect is going private. Corel needed cash, too, and MS provided it. Now Vector Capital is doing Microsoft the favour of taking Corel private -- for not much more than the amount of cash held by Corel (92 million shares , divided by half (for control), less the 22 million shares Vector already owns, times $1.05) ((92/2 - 22) * $1.05)million. If Mozilla/Netscape were a viable business, it would be facing a similar fate. But, since the code is open-source, it can't be retired like WP. Pretty amazing that was worth so much. Corel only cost Microsoft US$123 million (assuming Vector succeeds, which it will, based on current stock prices).
So, even excellent code/UI (like Opera or WP) can't make a difference in the face of boneheaded business moves when the competition is the most valuable company in the world, with more cash than it knows what to do with.
"So it's more than an accident that Opera, with its relentless focus on the Human Interface - and looking after the needs of users like your grandmother"
Opera's looking pretty good these days, but its user-interface is not what I'd call, um, elegant. Try to figure out its 747-cockpit of a Preferences dialog, or open more than 20 or so tabs. I've got a top-ten list of Operatic tragedies.
"the corrupt suits at AOL failed to appreciate the majesty of the Mozilla code" ... "the Mozilla team wandered off into Lotus-eating land and spent four years creating esoteric frameworks" ... "Creating a neat C++ framework when what the world needs a non-Microsoft browser is nothing but a deriliction of duty: a piece of vanity code"
The original Netscape code was a terrible mess, and it had to be thrown away and redone. We looked at it years ago to possibly be the basis for iRider, and quickly realized there was no way.
If Netscape, Mozilla, or Opera would actually do something innovative, maybe IE would recede.
Thanks all. More of your letters here. ®