Netscape Navigator was a web browser created in 1994 by Netscape Communications Corporation. It is the first commercially successful web browser with a graphical user interface that renders images in line with the text. The browser was free and usable for non-commercial purposes. This allowed users to download Netscape Navigator from the internet and use it for personal browsing without charge, which increased its popularity. Conversely, an advanced licensing scheme prevented other companies from creating browsers similar to Netscape Navigators GUI. Netscape browser usage ranged from 85% to 95% at its peak. It was a Dominant browser for a long period.
Browser interface overview
Netscape Navigator used tabs in a similar way to most contemporary web browsers. The tabs opened various windows that could be used to display web pages in a window on the user’s screen. Navigator started as a for-free browser, but Netscape was sued because their license restrictions prevented other companies from developing browsers similar to Netscape Navigator’s GUI. The lawsuit resulted in a settlement that made Netscape abandon the free browser model favouring an advanced licensing scheme.
The browser was installed by double-clicking the icon on a Windows-based operating system. A command bar was displayed at the top of the screen, which allowed users to access personal information, files, and local printers. Navigator used a plug-in architecture where Netscape extensions could be installed.
In 1995, Netscape Communications introduced the Mozilla Public License (MPL) to their source code. It created a free usage of the source code for non-commercial purposes but made it difficult to use it for commercial purposes.
Advance License Protocol
A license agreement called the “Standard Representation License” (aka ‘SR’) was distributed with Netscape Navigator. This license was not used to restrict usage. Instead, it was used to restrict Netscape’s source code licensing by other companies. The license agreement was developed to allow Netscape to restrict access to the source code and disallow others from developing similar browsers that competed with Netscapes own products.
The license says
“No Licensee shall use or disclose any Netscape Product Source Code, except as expressly permitted by this Agreement (including, without limitation, in a stand-alone product which is not a derivative work of any other product). All other uses or disclosures of Netscape Product Source Code or the work product of Netscape’s performance hereunder, including, without limitation, to any other Licensee, whether or not by way of sublicense, shall be deemed a breach of this Agreement.”
Advanced licensing scheme
Netscape Navigator was free of charge to download and use, but it required a license that came with an annual fee. The license required users to agree not to create derivative works or incorporate certain proprietary technologies such as SSL in the code of a website. The license granted users unlimited use of Netscape’s source code without royalty payments.
No other company could use Netscape Navigators’ source code in their browser unless they purchased an advance license agreement. Additionally, no company could use the source code in any derivative work. The standard representation license also restricted use by companies that were not direct employees of Netscape.
The advanced licensing scheme was intended to create a free for all browser for non-commercial purposes. However, companies developed nearly identical browsers to the original Netscape Navigator GUI. The other browsers included Opera from Opera Software ASA (later bought by Sun Microsystems and then was bought by Microsoft), WebTV from Palm, and Mozilla from Netscape Company/Netscape Japan.
Netscape was one of the first companies to offer its product free usage for non-commercial purposes.
As a result of the popularity of Netscape Navigator, many companies began to develop different versions of the browser. Because of Netscape’s advanced licensing scheme, most companies could not license the source code they needed to create browsers with similar functionality. However, most companies did purchase an advance license from Netscape and continued using their products until they were bought by another company or ceased development.
The Mozilla project was started by Netscape in 1994 and led by Jerry Burch for the first two years. The project’s main goal was to release a version of Netscape’s browser with many additional features, including the ability to show pop-up windows and display animations. One year after Netscapes announcement of the Mozilla project, Netscape switched direction and released “Netscape Navigator 2.0” with some additional features from the Mozilla team. Netscape Navigator was the dominant browser when Internet Explorer was not yet dominant, and there were more competing browsers than today.
The dominant browser of its time, Netscape Navigator’s usage declined when users liked the internet explorer browser. This decline in popularity may have been due to Netscape Navigator’s licensing restrictions. The browser has since been replaced by “Netscape Browser,” created by Netscape Communications Corporation in 1995 and which used the Netscape Navigator source code as its basis. However, this browser wasn’t as successful with users because it was limited to Windows 3.1x. A version of Netscape Navigator was created for the Macintosh operating system, Netscape Navigator for Mac. The beta version of the software was released in December 1994.