I have followed Netscape, and the browser as we know it since NCSA released the very first version of Mosaic in 1993. I watched as Netscape was born from some of the original Mosaic developers. I can honestly say that I have downloaded every version of the Netscape browser since its birth in 1994. I’ve followed Netscape through the browser wars with Microsoft and its eventual victory with Internet Explorer. I watched in 1998 as Netscape was sold to AOL and wondered if that was the best thing. Would AOL finally have the money and power to unseat IE as the browser champ? That didn’t quite end up happening. In January of 1998 Netscape decided to open source their browser code. This was the beginning of the Mozilla project. I kept an eye on Mozilla and would download test builds here and there. Ultimately this project would create the Mozilla browser suite, which Netscape would build their version 6.x (extremely buggy) & 7.x browsers from. In June of 2002 the Mozilla Project released version 1.0 which was a clean standards compliant browser that ran on all platforms. Throughout this entire run, which included the dot-com bubble burst AOL took some hits, and in July of 2003, they shut down their browser division. This gave birth to the Mozilla Foundation, a self-contained non-profit organization that continued to carry the Mozilla torch since there was no longer any funding coming from AOL (after a $2 million seeding donation). The Foundation has continued to develop the Mozilla platform which includes the suite, and Firefox, which I have mentioned here several times.
Well, enough with the Netscape history lesson. Given the above, Netscape is no longer a browser. It is no longer a browser company. Netscape is simply a brand owned by AOL. Yesterday, a new Netscape browser was released by AOL, which is odd since they closed their browser division last July. This new browser is based on the Mozilla Firefox, but as you’ll see if far from it. I was able to download a prototype release of this browser and have to tell you that it looks to me like AOL took Firefox and then threw up on it. The clean Firefox user interface, which in my opinion is where it shines, is utterly filled to the brim with junk. It looks like they took the entire Netscape homepage (which is pretty busy by itself) and stuffed it into control bar of the browser. The first thing you notice outside of the 20 things blinking at you competing for your attention, is the green color and texture which makes text very hard to read. If I were to sit down and try to purposely make the poorest user interface possible, I would be hard pressed to come up with something worse than this. The standard drop-down menus (file, edit, etc.) which are in practically ever program (at least that I use) were moved to the right side of the window. I have NEVER seen a Windows program (this product is only available for Windows) where they were not in the standard top left. This is just poor UI design. I should have turned back when I was installing it, and it asked me for my zip code so that it can display the weather. By default the browser has two news scrollers, weather information, AIM, your standard Netscape links, the kitchen sink, and a partridge and a pear tree all in the top navigation area of the browser in addition to the urlbar and forward/back/reload/home buttons. The interface is an absolute mess.
Taking a look at the large picture, I guess it’s a good thing that there will be more people out there using an alternative to the buggy pop-up ridden, virus-prone Internet Explorer, but get this, you can have pages open using the IE engine inside this browser. So, if you miss the security vulnerabilities and pop-up from IE (which is one of the reasons you’d switch in the first place) now you can have them in an utterly disgusting green package. Why are you using an alternative browser in the first place? If you can’t tell, I won’t be using this browser. I think I’ll stick with Firefox. As usual, AOL’s antics are fun to watch.