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AOL tosses Netscape into the dustbin of history

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AOL is abandoning all work on the Netscape browser and wants users to migrate to Firefox. Not that there are many left: in the mid-1990s, Netscape commanded well over 80 per cent of the internet browser market. But it has been moribund for many years, with share down to one per cent, at best.

In an obituary on the Netscape blog, lead developer Tom Drapeau threw in the towel today. "AOL's focus on transitioning to an ad-supported web business leaves little room for the size of investment needed to get the Netscape browser to a point many of its fans expect it to be", he wrote.

AOL is stopping support on all Netscape browser versions on Feb 1. Die-hard users can, of course, continue to browse the Net, but this may be unwise, considering there won't be any more security patches. Drapeau recommends that people who like the interface, should download a Netscape skin or 'theme' for their Firefox browsers.

In 2000, AOL bought Netscape Communications for $4.2bn, a prime example of dotcom lunacy (although a shadow of the lunacy that prompted Time Warner to buy AOL). AOL Time Warner recouped some of its money in 2003, when Microsoft paid the company $750m to settle an anti-trust case brought "to restore competition lost in the operating system market and in the Web browser market because of Microsoft's illegal conduct" (in the late 1990s).

Microsoft exploited its relationship with PC builders to strong-arm Netscape from their desktops and bundle Internet Explorer 4.0 instead. Not very nice. But let's not forget that many were receptive to Microsoft's "wooing". In private, many PC builders decried Netscape's arrogance. And of course, Internet Explorer was free, unlike Netscape at its peak. ®

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