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.
- The Netscape Dorm
- Tent of Doom
- Blow Me
- Really Bad Attitude
- Nomo Zilla
- Netscape and AOL
- Netscape and AOL/Time Warner
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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