AOL Plans to Drop Curtain on Netscape's Browser

AOL LLCs Netscape unit is discontinuing its Navigator Web browser and urging users of the pioneering and once-dominant software to switch to its Firefox cousin.

Ironically, the announcement of Navigators demise came on the same day that Microsoft Corp. filed a memorandum in federal court related to its 2002 antitrust consent decree. In the filing, Microsoft cited the ongoing development of Netscapes browser and other products as a reason why most of the decrees key provisions should be allowed to expire on Jan. 31.

Netscapes loss of control of the browser market to Microsoft in the late 1990s was the focus of the U.S. governments antitrust case against the software giant. The prosecutors charged that Microsofts bundling of Internet Explorer into Windows gave it an unfair advantage over Netscape and other browser rivals.

Navigator also lost users to Firefox, the open-source browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation, which was set up by the former Netscape Communications before it was bought by AOL in 1998.

In November, Net Applications, a firm that measures Web metrics, tracked Netscapes share of browser usage at just 0.60%, compared with 77.4% for IE and 16% for Firefox. That was a far cry from Netscapes heyday, when it controlled more than 80% of the market.

In a Dec. 28 posting on AOLs Navigator blog, Tom Drapeau, director of the companys Netscape brand team, said the unit will stop issuing security updates for the browser as of Feb. 1.

Given AOLs current business focus and the success the Mozilla Foundation has had in developing critically acclaimed products, we feel its the right time to end development of Netscape-branded browsers [and] hand the reins fully to Mozilla, Drapeau wrote.

Navigator will remain available for download from an AOL Web site that has yet to be set up, but all support by AOL will cease.

While internal groups within AOL have invested a great deal of time and energy in attempting to revive Navigator, these efforts have not been successful in gaining market share from Internet Explorer, Drapeau wrote. He noted that recent work on the browser has been limited to a handful of engineers tasked with creating a skinned version of Firefox with a few extensions.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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