Aberdeen IT Support

Still Exploring: Netscape Navigator's 20th Anniversary

Philip Magson - Shackleton Technologies Dundee

Written by Philip Magson

In October 2014, Netscape Navigator celebrated its 20th anniversary. Launched back in 1994, for many of us, Navigator was the first browser we every used and, although we may not have known it, represented a bold new chapter of internet history.

It’s amazing how significantly the way we do business has changed since 1994 – although it was discontinued in 2008, Netscape Navigator’s anniversary made me realise how much of that change we owe to the humble web browser. Yet, when I mention ‘Netscape Navigator’ to my younger friends, what I get is either a complete lack of recognition or the dismissal that greets other obsolete (read: irrelevant) software and hardware.

Anyone who grew up with broadband or 4G will never know the unique pain of trying to access the internet in the early 90s. In those days, we jumped through all kinds of hoops to get online – there were very few ISPs around, connection speed was a snail-slow 28.8Kps (at best) and operating systems simply struggled to support internet-based programmes, never mind browsers. 

Netscape Navigator was the brainchild of software engineer Marc Andreessen. Distributed on CDs and floppy disks, and marketed as a sort of ‘Internet Starter Pack’, Netscape Navigator found itself on the desktops of millions of homes, businesses, schools and universities, and was a road onto the world wide web where previously there was only a dirt track. Over the course of its lifetime, more innovative features followed, including cookies, frames, JavaScript, RSS feeds, free email and secure browsing.

 To highlight how far we’ve come since Navigator got things rolling: so far today using my web browser alone I’ve worked on a spreadsheet, caught up on a project with our digital marketing agency, written (at least) 20 emails, watched a video news bulletin and checked the status of our clients’ network – all done, seamlessly, from the comfort of my chair.

And the trend is going strong – every tech company worth its salt is shifting applications into the browser experience. Email went mobile a long time ago, along with contacts, calendars, and, more recently files and applications – which can be edited and updated directly. 20 years ago, who would have thought a fully-featured accounting application could be delivered in-browser? Or that an Operations Director at an engineering firm could view their entire business’ production status from one web browser window? Chances are, very few people – one of whom, was Marc Andreessen.

Today, my browser gives me exactly the experience I want: browser add-ons, extensions and plug-ins are crucial to helping me and my colleagues do business daily. Even as heavyweight browsers continue to battle for dominance, the spirit of development that Netscape Navigator fostered, as far back as 1994, continues to deliver – and improve – our access to and interaction with the world wide web.