ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Netscape Now! —

In the thematic family of my collection of  Under Construction and Mail GIFs from Geocities, let me introduce yet another: NETSCAPE THEN!

Much in the same way that the early days of Geocities are quickly lost to time, so is it with the early days of the corporatization of browsers, the transition from academic and hobbyist realms into pure “internet startup” mode, when money was the goal and doing so in a way that was the most impressive.

Netscape, the first prominent browser company, was partially created by scooping the intellectual heart out of the NCSA Mosaic production. Its history has been covered to death in a lot of locations that are perhaps not actively sought out, but it’s a history you should be acquainting yourself with if you’re a student of web history. If I may be so bold to make a suggestion, you can do no better than to hear the rantings of Jamie Zawinski. A programmer with a wonderful perspective on life and willing to write it out, Jamie was keeping a weblog long before the money idiots got involved in the concept, and he’s kept it all accessible.

While I happen to think all of his entries are brilliant, with a willingness to say his peace out regardless of who it bites the hand of, here are the ones that are relevant to getting a feel for Netscape’s early days, heights, triumphs, and despairing ending.

OK, fine, one that isn’t in theme: I think Corleone is the first and last word in grounding yourself and your friendships in time of great, unexpected success.

Among the things that Netscape did at this dawn of browsers was try to build a really strong identity/brand around the “N” Logo, and a blue-green color scheme. It was everywhere. And when different browsers came up, we saw a lot of really interesting efforts on the parts of various parties to make their brand even stronger. Ultimately, as we all know, Microsoft broke the law and both used their browser as a free default wrap-in to their OS and also modified their OS in various service packs to make Netscape products function worse. We all know that, right?

Netscape, of course, was sure to have the same problems if it had lived longer than it did as a separate company, as Yahoo now has. But by both dying off young and the brilliant hack of the released open-source Mozilla browser, it had a permanent effect on the world beyond its own lifetime. The name Netscape is still around, but what it labels is nothing like what was.

The  buttons you see in this collection were Netscape’s attempt to “brand” the internet as a place that needed Netscape browsers to run, and which pushed for you to go and grab the newest version of Netscape and join the world. It has always been the case that major browser changes mean major website changes, and while now it’s things like faster loading and the use of PNGs, it was once the ability to center and the introduction of CSS. The more things change, the more the same change changes the same things. Or something like that.

Again, I don’t think it’s my place to be the history guy for the specific experiences of working at companies like Netscape, but I hope through little exhibits like this, people will assemble stories, tales, and maybe people at the companies making a difference now will take jwz’s approach to keeping track of themselves and the life they’re living, for later generations.

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  1. fruitbat says:

    Lets face it, it’s all about the green isn’t it?

  2. Netscape Now!…

    Jason Scott verweist auf eine Netscape-Iconsammlung und ein paar Blogeinträge von Jamie Zawinsky, die sich um den Aufstieg und Fall von Netscape drehen. Mal wieder ein interessantes Stück Web-Geschichte.

  3. Chris says:

    I love Jamie’s homepage, the psuedo scrolling hex dump is mesmerizing.

  4. Joe Crawford says:

    You might be interested in the icon at the bottom of which is an Anti-Netscape badge… “OFFICIAL HTML 2.0 – GUARANTEED NETSCAPISM-FREE”

  5. I personally find JWZ’s writing to be self-serving, self-important, and delusional. JWZ and other “old netscape” people (such as Mike Shaver) have, over the years, frequently displayed an attitude of “we were Netscape, we were so cool, we made the Internet happen and we deserved to rule the world, but since we got cheated out of that we’re going to dish out a nonstop stream of we-know-better-than-you pseudowisdom.”

    JWZ’s worst rant EVER was the one where he boldly declared “all groupware sucks” — mainly because Netscape failed at it. It is deliciously ironic that the “new” project he was trying to influence (Hula) also failed. His rant basically said “good software helps you to get laid” and a lot of people mistook the shock value of that statement for actual insight. No, you idiot, good software gets the job done without calling attention to itself.

    JWZ is a beer salesman. Nothing more.

  6. Colby Russel says:

    Jason posts about JWZ. Worlds are colliding.

    It is deliciously ironic that the “new” project he was trying to influence (Hula) also failed.

    This is not irony. This is exactly the opposite of irony; it is foresight. What’s both verbally and situationally ironic, however, is the combination of your commentary and your choice to use this event to tear down what you see as the illusion of Zawinski’s wisdom.

    Learn the definition of irony. You’re exhibiting it.

  7. It isn’t foresight, because the Hula people basically said “JWZ was right, and we’re going to follow his advice.” And it failed anyway, because JWZ’s “advice” was worthless. It wasn’t even advice at all; it was a bitter rant from someone who thought that as an early Netscape employee he was entitled to be a perpetual hero.

    Quite frankly, I think that Jason is doing himself quite a disservice by even mentioning JWZ. Jason is introspective and passionate about what he does, and I deeply admire him for that. JWZ is merely bitter and self-congratulatory.

    • Jason Scott says:

      We’re not going to agree on JWZ, that’s for sure. But I will continue to mention him and continue to point to his work for a specific reason, which I think is being missed here.

      JWZ, whether he is right or wrong, is an excellent writer and provider of his message and perspective. He provides photos, history, and his own opinion on his work. You don’t come away from his writing going “but what was he trying to say” or “what was the message in there”. You know it. You might disagree with it or accolade him for standing up for it, but either way, he gets it across.

      Another person, to me, who also does an excellent job of this is Joel Spolsky, of, who is so good at also getting his ideas and perspective across along with photos, citations, and the rest. People can point to his stuff and say he’s nailed it, or point to it and bemoan its inaccuracy, but either way, there’s something to point to it.

      That’s what I like here.