Netscape built the first commercial web browser, providing a major driver of the development of the web and related online innovation that characterized the late 1990’s.
In May, 1994, Jim Clark, founder of the computer company Silicon Graphics Inc., Marc Andreessen, and others from the Mosaic development team formed a company to develop a commercial web browser. The University of Illinois almost immediately sued. The company announced settlement of the suit at the Comdex conference in the fall of 1994, and, as part of the settlement, agreed to change its name from “Mosaic Communications” to “Netscape”.
Netscape had the resources to improve their technology much faster than the NCSA, and the use of Netscape spread rapidly. In October 1994, Netscape released the the first beta version of their browser, Mozilla 0.96b, over the Internet. On December 15, the final version was released, Mozilla 1.0, the first commercial web browser.
By the end of 1994, the amount of Web traffic on the Internet passed the amount of Telnet traffic for the first time, and became the second largest source of traffic on the NSFNET after FTP. In April 1995, the number of web packets passed the number of FTP packets communicated over the NSFNET.
Netscape quickly provided many powerful new browser features, and conveniently integrated three Internet technologies in one application — web, email, and newsgroups. Netscape also made a point of ensuring that their browser was designed to run on all three of the major computer types — Windows, Macintosh, and Unix.
Netscape was made available for free over the web to individuals and non-profit organizations from the beginning, which was key to its rapid adoption. At first, Netscape asked people to pay after using the browser for a trial period. However, as pressure from Microsoft’s free Internet Explorer browser mounted, they quickly realized that their profits were going to come from development of web server software, traffic to their home page, and related revenues, and stopped asking users to pay for the browser.
In 1995, Netscape had the then third largest ever Initial Product Offering (IPO) on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
In January, 1998, the Netscape Navigator standard edition was made free (archive) and source code published on the new Mozilla web site for any developer to examine and improve, adding their software to the free open source software environment, where code is freely published so that potentially millions of people can use it and offer improvements. The Mozilla foundation has gone on to develop the leading Firefox web browser and Thunderbird email application.
In November, 1998, under great pressure from Microsoft and their development of Internet Explorer, Netscape was sold to America Online. A few attempts were made to keep the commercial code base going, but soon fizzled out.