Netscape Navigator logoAn article entitled In praise of … Netscape Navigator announced  that today (Saturday, 1 March 2008) sees the official end of support for the Netscape Navigator Web browser.

The “In praise of” column does indeed praise Netscape for “opening the web, [and] pav[ing] the way for everything from Google to Wikipedia“.

What the column doesn’t say is the that the browser went from strength to strength after it was launched by ignoring standards bodies and introducing several new proprietary HTML extensions which infuriated HTML standards groups when they were released. As an article in Wikipedia describes:

Through the late 1990s, Netscape made sure that Navigator remained the technical leader among web browsers. Important new features included cookies, frames, and JavaScript (in version 2.0). Although those and other innovations eventually became open standards of the W3C and ECMA and were emulated by other browsers, they were often viewed as controversial. Netscape, according to critics, was more interested in bending the web to its own de facto “standards” (bypassing standards committees and thus marginalizing the commercial competition) than it was in fixing bugs in its products. Consumer rights advocates were particularly critical of cookies and of commercial web sites using them to invade individual privacy.

But why is the Guardian praising Netscape, if the company behaved in this fashion? Well I think the Guardian was right when it says that “Everyone from secretaries to salesmen started logging on” thanks to the initial success an popularity of the browser.  But let’s not rewrite history and suggest that this was due to the software vendor supporting old standards – rather, and ironically, its success was due to flouting the standisation processes and forcing innovations (which, in some cases, subsequently became standardised) through seeking to position itself as the dominant vendor in the marketplace.

Netscape Navigator usageOf course, although they were the dominant player for a short period, this did not last, with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser eventually finding itself as the world’s most widely-used browser, despite the appeal which FireFox has to its admirers.

Strange how  things turn out.