Microsoft almost bought Netscape in 1994, but failed

Remember 1994? The Internet and the World Wide Web was just beginning to break out of its university roots and start to be used by the general public. That was just 17 years ago; now accessing the Internet via some kind of web browser is as commonplace as turning on a TV. However, if a new report over at Computerworld.co.uk is correct, the Internet and the web browser industry could have taken a different path.

The website posted an interview with Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript and one of the people behind the development of the Netscape web browser, perhaps the single biggest and most important application in those early days of the World Wed Web. Eich claims that before he came to work at Netscape,  Microsoft " .... made an offer to acquire Netscape late 1994 ...." butMicrosoft's offer was not high enough for Netscape's leaders  "... so they were turned away."

Let that just sink in for a moment. Microsoft made an offer to buy Netscape before it really took off and almost became a threat to Microsoft. If Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer had offered Netscape a bigger offer and the company accepted, there would have not been a browser war between the two companies.

Microsoft would have had total and complete domination for access to the Internet via the World Wide Web like it did with its Windows operating system on the PC. With virtually no competition, Microsoft could have used Netscape as the basis for its own web browser. It's also possible that there would have not been any anti-trust case filed against Microsoft in 1998 since such a case was dependent on the US Department of Justice's claim that Microsoft's bundling of its Internet Explorer web browser kept Netscape Navigator from being able to compete.

If this story is true, we bet that Gates and Ballmer have since thought, "We should have offered Netscape more money." But they didn't, and as a result the development of the Internet went down a much different road than it could have with Microsoft in full control of the wheel.

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It wasn't the cost... Netscape did not want to give up control or move beyond the browser, which was what Microsoft 'needed'.

Microsoft didn't care about the application side of the 'browser', but wanted the HTML rendering capabilities and wanted to break it away from the browser into a rendering engine that could be application controlled and accessible.

Ironically, this catching point is what doomed Netscape, as IE4 was an HTML rendering engine first, and a browser technology second. Hence developed products were able to use HTML as rendered content, which made it a great report engine and connectivity engine using HTML. So from Quicken to AOL, IE's engine was was key to moving beyond the concept of a browser application and forward to HTML content displaying technologies.

Even after AOL bought Netscape, because it was not an 'engine' technology, AOL was still using the IE engine for their AOL software for several more years.

AOL's revamp was what broke Netscape apart and started the HTML rendering engine era for Netscape, and allowed AOL to finally use Netscape as their browser, and moved forward to allow Firefox as well as be a part of the 'web control/kit/engine' technologies that Microsoft and IE set into motion.

-Which is what Netscape didn't want to happen and why they wouldn't sell to Microsoft. (Funny in retrospect)

So how different would the world be? Nobody will ever know.

I remember back in the day, our dial-up Internet was from Netscape. Then one day, AOL bought them out and they sent a disc through saying that AOL 6 or similar, needed to be installed in order to continue using. Needless to say, we cancelled our subscription.

I remember back in the day, our dial-up Internet was from Netscape. Then one day, AOL bought them out and they sent a disc through saying that AOL 6 or similar, needed to be installed in order to continue using. Needless to say, we cancelled our subscription.

Now this brings back memories. We used Netscape as we were introduced to it then we were forced to use IE as @home did not work with netscape, those days were fun.

I am glad they didnt buy it for one thing:
"Microsoft could have used Netscape as the basis for its own web browser"

Heh, I remember this from a while ago if I'm not mistaken so not sure why it's so shocking news now. However, I'm also glad it never went through. I still remember getting dial-up for the first time when I was a kid and installing Netscape... probably v2 ('94/'95) from floppy discs Yahoo! was "The Internet" for me at first (still have my Yahoo! email from 15+ years ago but it mostly collecting junk mail these days). Who remembers Netscape Composer and later Microsoft FrontPage? If it wasn't for competition both on the Browser and Developer and Server side, the Internet would probably have a lot of VBScript today. Thinking about it, had they had it all back then, we could also be listening to WMA's instead of MP3's today too since the popularity of MP3 came from it's popularity as the consumer digital audio format of the Internet.

I used Netscape through v6. After that, it just became too buggy for my own uses. But I've used Firefox since it started, and use it for most of my internet work. The only thing I don't use it for is actual work-related stuff, since my company's website is built on Sharepoint and thus doesn't play with ANYTHING but IE.

Voice of Buddy Christ said,
I used Netscape through v6. After that, it just became too buggy for my own uses. But I've used Firefox since it started, and use it for most of my internet work. The only thing I don't use it for is actual work-related stuff, since my company's website is built on Sharepoint and thus doesn't play with ANYTHING but IE.

You found Netscape Communicator stable and reliable? what voodoo magic were you practicing? the software royally sucked on every platform it ran on - be it Mac OS, Solaris or Windows for that matter.

Competition is a good thing! Had it not been for Netscape Navigator driving things forward in the early days and the resulting "browser war" between Netscape/IE, we'd probably all still be using some very early version of IE... IE4 anyone?!

Netscape Navigator will always have a place in my heart... I'm VERY pleased the folks behind it didn't sell out to Microsoft - browsing the web is a richer experience today because of Netscape's commitment in those early days of the web's infancy!

GreatMarkO said,
Competition is a good thing! Had it not been for Netscape Navigator driving things forward in the early days and the resulting "browser war" between Netscape/IE, we'd probably all still be using some very early version of IE... IE4 anyone?!

Please - it was because of (surprisingly) IE that Netscape was forced to clean up a very problematical browser. I went first to NCSA Mosaic (the progenitor of Netscape Navigator), then to Netscape 2.x (this was 1996 - Windows 95 had recently released and was enroute to shattering sales records across the planet). IE 2.x was horrible (admitted); however, the then-beta Netscape Navigator 3.x was, if anything, worse. Much worse. On top of not being compatible with plug-ins for 2.x (which was angering plug-in developers, especially Macromedia), it was, indeed, both buggy and a performance hog. Netscape was pushing ISPs to standardize on Navigator 3.x - fortunately a lot of the smaller (still mostly dial-up) ISPs (including mine) passed, and stayed with Navigator 2.x. Then along came the public beta of IE 3.0. It was smooth, where Netscape 3.0 (since gone RTW) was still buggy, and was at least as smooth as Navigator 2.x - even better, you could use all your plug-ins from Navigator 2.x (even though it also supported the then-new ActiveX controls; it kept the Netscape 2.x plug-in option for the specific reason of easing migration issues for users). It was that IE 3.0 could use Netscape 2.x plug-ins (including those Netscape wrote itself) that caused howls from Netscape's coders and lawyers. Then there was that Netscape wanted to *charge* for Navigator 3.x - Microsoft made plain that IE would in fact remain free forever. In other words - had Netscape taken Microsoft's offer, a lot of then-Navigator 2.x/3.x users would not have suffered needlessly through that horror-show.
Netscape Navigator will always have a place in my heart... I'm VERY pleased the folks behind it didn't sell out to Microsoft - browsing the web is a richer experience today because of Netscape's commitment in those early days of the web's infancy!

Whew, we can all be glad this never happened. I don't understand, Microsoft hadn't launched IE at the time, why would they have been interested in Netscape?

Ah good old Netscape Communicator I remember running the 4.0 and 4.2 versions and 4.01 with the web channels sidebar, I remember clicking "Subscribe" on my Windows 98 Netscape Sidebar and using their HTML editor..... Wow......it's been so long! Wow....Wow......simply WOW.......This hurts.....Don't be surprised if they have another attempt at this but I hope they fail again - FF must be independent.

So irrelevant to the future of computing, the browser wars. The future is rich internet-client apps integrating data from multiple sources.

I dunno about you guys... but the last time I checked my calendar, it indicated 2011. I have no clue why this makes front page news at midnight. Feeling a bit nostalgic, mr. Callaham?

Mouettus said,
last time I checked my calendar, it indicated 2011. I have no clue why this makes front page news

Did you read the article?, This is something that has been kept secret for 17 years - almost as long as the internet has been around commercially. It was news "leaked" by the referenced computerworld article.

dvb2000 said,

Did you read the article?, This is something that has been kept secret for 17 years - almost as long as the internet has been around commercially. It was news "leaked" by the referenced computerworld article.

No, it hasn't. Many, many documentaries reveal exactly this 'news'.

smooth3006 said,
I never used netscape.

yeah you have to pretty much be using PC's in the 1990's to remember that basically as i used Netscape but it was back in the 1990's and i don't even remember which version of it was but if i had to guess i believe it was Version 4.

EDIT: well according to wikipedia... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N...e_Navigator#Release_history , sounds like it was basically 1996-1998 for the general v3 and v4 browsers. i was using PC's since 1995 but i think it was generally in the 1996-1998 area when i was using Netscape roughly.

ThaCrip said,

yeah you have to pretty much be using PC's in the 1990's to remember that basically as i used Netscape but it was back in the 1990's and i don't even remember which version of it was but if i had to guess i believe it was Version 4.

EDIT: well according to wikipedia... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N...e_Navigator#Release_history , sounds like it was basically 1996-1998 for the general v3 and v4 browsers. i was using PC's since 1995 but i think it was generally in the 1996-1998 area when i was using Netscape roughly.

i didnt own a pc until 2001.

thenonhacker said,
I'm glad the purchase did not push through. Netscape 3 and 4 are so buggy. I would not be surprised if it's made of crappy code.

would that of not made the entire lawsuit?? that was the worst thing for them because it made everyone think microsoft was douches.

thenonhacker said,
I'm glad the purchase did not push through. Netscape 3 and 4 are so buggy. I would not be surprised if it's made of crappy code.

Sheesh! Maybe they were buggy because things were just getting going?

Personally,
I liked version 3, but 4 did start going down hill and everything after that was just crap.

thenonhacker said,
I'm glad the purchase did not push through. Netscape 3 and 4 are so buggy. I would not be surprised if it's made of crappy code.

The reason that Netscape 4 sucked was that it was a total ground-up rewrite in C++. It was done by coders from Collabra -- a company that Netscape had acquired. Jeremy Zawinski sneered at them as a bunch of college students working on a class project, with overarchitected code that barely worked.


Netscape 3 was years behind schedule, so it turned into Netscape 4. In a panic, the company turned to the old Mosaic coders who'd written Netscape 2 (essentially straight C, very little ++) to rescue them with an interim release.

As you might imagine, this insane process caused *both* Netscape 3 and 4 to be buggy. Netscape 4 was buggy because it was really a version 1 product. Netscape 3 was buggy because they had to rush it out before it was ready.