Mozilla woes

I watched a pretty interesting show on the National Geographic channel about the makers of Netscape, covering their phenomenal rise and subsequent fall to Microsoft, and their buyout by AOL.
What struck me most on the show, however, was the dedication of Netscape employees to their work. Some of them would stay over for weeks in the office as their homes weren’t in the same city. But they were working for a cause they believed in – and they were willing to fight for it.
Pity they took ages to produce Netscape 6. Skipping one version number didn’t exactly make a big impact on consumers, who were already using Internet Explorer by default on their PCs. In the meantime, as Microsoft’s lawyers battled it out in with the DOJ, Internet Explorer kept on improving itself. It got developers hooked onto its support for DHTML, for instance, and it loaded much, much faster than Netscape 4.
[Note: Netscape 5 BTW did exist internally, but the engine was scrapped in favour of the open-source browser I affectionately call Mozzy. Maybe they wanted to play catch-up with Microsoft’s IE 5, but this confused consumers initially as they were expecting 4 to go to 5 and not 6 – which is reasonable. I came across some popular websites which stated that they required ‘Netscape 5 and above’, or listed that browser version in their error page feedback forms. As of today, the Guardian website still lists Netscape 5 as a browser even though it isn’t available publicly for download. Click here to go to a fictitious link on their site, to see what I mean.]
I also had doubts when I heard AOL was buying it over. When I tried AOL in the UK a few years ago, I didn’t feel comfortable with it – probably because it was meant for web beginners, not ‘power users’ like myself. I wondered briefly how Netscape was coping with the culture change. Well the documentary confirmed that some Netscape staff left after the behemoth swallowed them as the AOL culture was not really that of a ‘dotcom’. I probably would have done the same.
Anyway, AOL didn’t quite merge seamlessly with Netscape at first. For instance, their AOL browser was based on Internet Explorer’s engine, not Netscape’s. And when I used it, it certainly felt like an IE browser with the AOL logo slapped on it. AOL later came under criticism for this and I believe their browser has been suitably amended. Correct me if I’m wrong on any point, because I doubt I’m going to install AOL again so I’ll never know.
But what I disliked most about the post-AOL takeover was how Netscape’s approach towards consumers had changed. Now there are AOL popup windows whenever I visit and every time I install a newer version of Netscape, I get AOL icons on my desktop, AOL shortcuts in my bookmarks panel, AOL shortcuts in my start menu. I mean, quit cluttering my screen; I’m back in Singapore now and there’s no such service in my country!
Soon I found myself reading up on how to delete all references to AOL Messenger in my Windows registry. I even trashed that pesky aim.exe file which kept on activating whenever I ran the browser. I never asked for it! Like the very giant they were both battling against, they started using Microsoft-like tactics to push their own products, whether you wanted to download them or not.
But don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-Netscape per se (although I don’t quite like AOL). I still use their browsers. Versions 6 and 7 are fairly web standards-compliant. I’m even using Netscape 7 to post this entry. But the company has retained less than 10% of the market share as of now. Many web designers don’t even bother testing their sites using this browser anymore. I don’t agree with this attitude but you get the general idea. On a similar note, in my undergraduate days I used Netscape Search ardently, then I discovered something called Google, which was even better.
Netscape’s website now makes me feel like I’m entering another of those typical news portals, with content syndicated from various news sources such as CNN, whose websites I’d rather be visiting directly. The website also went through numerous redesigns, many of which I don’t care to remember because they had no impact on me. I just went there to upgrade my browser and found I had to click more times to get to my destination.
Netscape did announce a change its direction for its website a couple years back, from being browser-oriented to becoming an all-in-one news provider, but frankly I would rather have the company focus once again on what they used to do best.