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Netscape's death marks industry rebirth

The Netscape browser is no more. Its legacy is ever stronger
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Written by Leader on

Like a pre-war film star who'd lived out their last decades in obscurity, the actual death of the Netscape browser comes as a shock only because nobody knew it had still been breathing.

Netscape's story is a microcosm of so much of the early commercial internet. Launched to universal excitement and acclaim, powered by a stellar IPO, locked into a destructive war of attrition with Microsoft, it was finally doomed to die, its brand extinguished by irrelevance and complete lack of interest.

Of course, that's not the end of the story. Netscape saw its market position put to the sword by Microsoft's illegal bundling activities — a destruction achieved for the bargain price of $750m (£380m), paid to AOL in 2003 by Microsoft in an out-of-court settlement.

Microsoft may now wonder exactly what it bought. The ghost of Netscape has not been exorcised. Its spiritual descendent, Firefox, is available to all over broadband — and has been steadily pulling back market share, reaching more than 40 percent in some markets.

Unable to close it down, buy it out, suffocate it or sue, Microsoft has been forced to use its weapon of last resort: innovation. After five years of stagnation in Internet Explorer 6, IE7 was born — something that would not have happened without the competition from Firefox. Open source, it seems, is one tough customer.

Netscape showed that the net eats away at old thinking and old methods, creating new forces that can withstand and prevail against entrenched power. It fought and lost using the old rules of big business, but in so doing helped change the world for the better. That's a story of redemption worthy of Hollywood. We're enjoying the sequel immensely.

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