's Internet Explorer
browser now dominating the web, it's easy to forget the browser that started it all, Netscape
. Though it wasn't the first browser, it brought the internet to the masses and defined the web during its formative years.
Version 0.9 was publicly unveiled on October 13th, 1994. This was a work in progress, and basically matched the features of Mosaic, but with better image handling (full GIF and JPEG support) and a noticable speed increase. At this point, the browser was still known as Mosaic Netscape.
Version 1.0 was released December 15, 1994. The browser was renamed Netscape due to legal wrangling with Spyglass and NCSA. The major feature of this release was working SSL - Netscape's killer feature for e-commerce. Version 1.1 followed in April 1995. This was the first release to have a 32-bit version for Windows 95 and NT. It also contained some interesting new features like dynamic documents through client pull (HTTP Refresh) and server push. Client pull was showcased by the famous Netscape Fishcam. Also introduced were background colors and images, giving content providers even more control over a page's look.
In the face of increasingly stiff competition from Microsoft, Netscape "freed the lizard". On January 23, 1998, they stopped charging for the browser and announced the source code was going to be made public. The code was revealed on March 31, 1998, and was intended to provide the base for Netscape 5.0.
Version 5.0 was eventually scrapped, but some of the features made it into (the still proprietary) version 4.5, which came out in June 1998. The new features centered around "enterprise" support: roaming profiles, e-mail read receipts, LDAP autocomplete for addresses in Messenger. In addition, Java 1.1 was supported, and the contraversial Smart Browsing and What's Related features were added. Windows 3.1 and 68k Macs were finally abandoned.
In November 1998 AOL announced it was buying Netscape. The first AOL co-branded release was 4.6 and the significant changes were: a 56-bit DES cipher added to both the US and export versions (export version previously had only RC4-40) and RealNetworks G2 RealPlayer was bundled.
Version 4.7 followed in October 1999, with minimal bug fixes and WinAMP added to the ever-growing list of bundled packages. At version 4.73, the export version was abandoned, and 128-bit encryption was distributed outside the US.
Netscape 6 Preview Release 1, the first Netscape branded release based on the "mozilla" free source code, came out in April 2000. This release was almost universally panned, released too early. It was followed by PR2 in August, PR3 in October, and the final release shortly thereafter. 6.1, 6.2 and 6.21 came out in quick succession, in August, October, and December of 2001, respectively. Each incrementally improved the browser to the point where 6.21 is fast, stable and usable browser.