09/12/2021

081 – Browser wars – 1993

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Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.  Mitch Kapor

The National Centre for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was charged with building on the success of the ARPANET and NSFNet.

Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina developed the first version of NCSA Mosaic in 1993, working with FTP, Usenet and Gopher.

It had a GUI that could display images in the same window as text.  The program’s source code in X-Window format was free to all.

The university had established Spyglass Inc in 1990 to commercialise the university’s inventions and   Tim Krauskopf obtained exclusive rights in 1994 for Spyglass to license Mosaic software.

April 1994 Jim Clark of SGI, raised the funding to establish Andreessen and others as Mosaic Communications Corporation.

Codenamed Mozilla, for Mosaic killer, it was released as Mosaic Netscape 0.9 in October 1994 as a downloadable file via the Internet, available in X-Window, Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh.  It was free for personal use or cost $99 for commercial operations.  This made the Internet and World Wide Web readily accessible to non-computer-users and the service flourished.

1994 Microsoft approached Mozilla, offering $1m to license its browser code but Clark rejected the deal.

The software was renamed Netscape Navigator by November 1994 and Mosaic was renamed Netscape to avoid issues with the NCSA.  Netscape investigated whether there was any infringement with Spyglass and settled out of court, paying $2.2m in damages and $1.4m from licensing deals.  Netscape Navigator 1.1 then 1.2 were released and by March 1995 six million copies had been downloaded.

June 1995 Microsoft asked Netscape not to compete with Microsoft in browsers for Windows 95 and its derivatives.  Clark referred the conversation to the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice, it concluded Microsoft was breaching the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Microsoft licensed the Spyglass Mosaic browser with $1 royalty for each browser shipped.  Microsoft’s Thomas Reardon took the Spyglass source code and by August 1995 completed Internet Explorer.

August 1995 Netscape Communications was launched on NASDAQ.  Shares priced at $28 opened at $71, peaking at $74.75.  This was the best opening day performance for an issue of its size and valued the company at $2.2bn.  When v2.0 of Navigator was released AOL bundled it for its users to access the Internet.

June 1996 Microsoft threatened to cancel Compaq’s licence for Windows when it also proposed to bundle Navigator.  Netscape referred this anti-competitive activity to the authorities.  By the end of 1996 browser shares were 55% Netscape, 30% Internet Explorer.

January 1997 Spyglass took action complaining that Microsoft paid only the minimum quarterly royalty.  Resolved by a c$8m payment.

At a senatorial meeting in March 1997 Bill Gates admitted that Microsoft contracted with Internet content companies, restricting them from working with Netscape.  However Internet Explorer 4 was taking market share from Netscape throughout this legal action.

May 1998 The US Department of Justice charged Microsoft with violation of the Sherman Act in its attempt to achieve a monopoly of browsers. An injunction called for Windows 98 to be issued without Internet Explorer bundled, or to bundle Netscape Navigator too.  However by September 1998 Internet Explorer had become the market leader.

1999 AOL acquired Netscape for $4.2bn in stock. By the end of the year market shares were 75% Internet Explorer, 23% Netscape. 

But Netscape would return – as Mozilla!

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