In the nineties, it was the web browser of choice for some 90 per cent of internet users. This weekend, Netscape Navigator, owned since 1998 by AOL, will effectively be closed down. With less than one per cent market share, Netscape has finally been eliminated by the likes of Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox.
Back in November 2000, we interviewed Netscape’s founder, the remarkable young internet entrepreneur who helped to bring the internet to a global audience. Let’s, just for a moment, reflect on this incredible story. And then we’ll say goodbye.
As a 21-year-old student, Andreessen developed the world’s first browser. He called it Mosaic. It was the first software program that made the internet easy to use. Andreesen was driven not by money, but by "a desire to democratise the web."
On leaving the National Centre for Supercomputing (NCSA), Andreessen hooked up with Silicon Valley legend Jim Clark. The idea they hatched was for a "Killer Mosaic". They called the new software Navigator and it became the foundation on which they built Netscape in 1994.
A year later they floated the company on Nasdaq. By the end of a frenetic first day’s trading, the business was worth $2.3bn. The 23-year-old from Wisconsin was an immediate multi-millionaire although he always felt that hhe should have done better from his creation. He was dubbed "The Man Who Changed the World." That float was the beginning of the stockmarket’s stormy romance with the internet, a relationship that still rages hot and cold today. (See market reaction to the latest results posted by Google.)
AOL took over Netscape in 1998 and Andreessen finally left in 1999 to form a business called LoudCloud. Netscape was never the same again and this weekend we finally bid it farewell.
At the time of our interview, eight years ago, we asked Andreessen which internet businesses would stand the test of time. "Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, AOL and arguably a few others like E*Trade", he said. His instincts were spot-on. The reputations of many early web pioneers have suffered with hindsight. Andreessen will always be celebrated as a truly visionary entrepreneur.