I have just seen the news that from the start of February Netscape Navigator will no longer be supported and will be cast adrift to sink in the sea of obscure outdated software. The announcement can be found at Netscape Blog: End of Support for Netscape web browsers.
People will say this is the end of an era, but something like only 0.6% of web users are now using Netscape (source: BBC News: Web icon set to be discontinued). For readers of my blog it's even lower - in the stats for November only 0.24% of readers were using Netscape. The era seems to have already passed.
Why has this happened? I haven't followed the technical and corporate politics of the AOL takeover and everything, but looking back as a user I stopped using Netscape when version 4 could no longer support most websites and version 6 had system requirements that were too advanced for my laptop (which was then only three years old). Consequently I switched to Opera after recommendations. About this time my then university dropped Netscape altogether in an upgrade of the network login (which up to that point was still on Netscape 3). For a long time I was reluctant to take the plunge with Internet Explorer but I eventually succumbed, primarily because for a year it was the only available browser for the sole computer with internet access that I regularly used.
More widely I guess the big part of the problem was the continued expansion of internet usage came at a time when Internet Explorer was automatically included with new versions of Windows, whilst Microsoft websites were near impossible to use with any other browser to say nothing of other applications that are internet compatible and link to websites. So for the average user Internet Explorer did all that was required and there was no need to get another browser. In turn more and more websites were designed with IE primarily in mind - and on some versions of Netscape many a website looks ugly.
This of course doesn't explain the mass switchover amongst existing users, though miscalculations and unstable new browsers from Netscape in the crucial period whilst competing with a more aggressive drive by other browsers might. Much as some of us would like otherwise, most computer users do not have an obsessive hatred of Microsoft to the point of overriding all other considerations. And thus in a market driven by those who are always trying to be new and which scorns those who can't move with the times (see my past post Bye bye Windows 98) Netscape appeared old fashioned, clunky and undesirable. And so it failed.
Perhaps the biggest loss is not the browser itself but the email reader. One thing that I always liked about Netscape is that when replying to a message, at least on the versions I used, the default setting was to place the cursor below the quoted text, encouraging the sender to quote properly when sending email. I find lengthy emails full of bottom quoting tedious in the extreme, especially when they evade key points which proper email quoting targets. Here endeth the Rant.