Future Tense

Netscape Navigator, Everyone’s First Browser, Turns 20 Today

Remember this?

Image from Wikipedia

Netscape Navigator, the first real commercial Web browser, launched on Oct. 13, 1994. And though I’ve written before about the danger of overselling techniversaries, this one stands out to me. The invention of the browser changed the way people used the Internet forever, and though browsers have improved over the years, the original Netscape Navigator is still fundamentally recognizable. It was a good idea!

Created by Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen at Mosaic Communications Corp. (which they founded in April 1994), Netscape not only introduced people to the future of the Web, but prompted Microsoft to create competitor and browser bigwig Internet Explorer. For better and worse.

Development on Netscape ended in 2008, but its spirit—and some source code—lives on in Firefox. In honor of Netscape’s birthday, here’s what people were saying about it in 1994.

From the original press release for the browser:

The initial version of Netscape available today on the net is a public beta version, enabling users to provide feedback on the software’s features and functionality across a wide range of computing platforms. The company will also place the final version of the navigator, due out in November, on the Internet for free downloading. This version delivers security features such as encryption and server authentication. When paired with the Netsite Commerce Server due out in November, Netscape lets users take advantage of such commercial services as online publications, financial services and interactive shopping. …

By making Netscape available free to individuals for personal use, the company builds on the tradition of software products for the Internet being offered free of charge.

A New York Times article from November explained:

Netscape Communications of Mountain View, Calif …. has been developing enhanced versions of a hugely successful program called Mosaic that lets people jump between computers around the world merely by clicking on on-screen icons.

And Jamie Zawinski, one of the original engineers who worked on Netscape, published diary entries from the weeks leading up to the launch of the public beta:

Friday, 7 October 1994, 6am.

We go live on the net in four days.

I no longer think we’re doomed. I think we’re going to rock all over. It’s still pretty scary, though.