You spend years getting used to something and then it's snatched away. Netscape Navigator, the once-popular Web browser now owned by AOL, will not be supported after February 1. At one point during the 1990s, Netscape was used by more than 90 percent of people surfing the Web.
Old versions of the browser will be available for download, but won't be supported. "Organizations are going to want to find an alternative now and start the migration process. It's not terribly difficult, but it can be a little tricky, and it will take time," said Holly Ross, executive director of NTEN, a nonprofit technology organization.
According to AOL, the number of users has slipped to less than one percent because of competition from Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), which is used by an estimated 80 percent of Web surfers.
AOL bought Netscape Navigator in 1998 from Netscape Communications Corporation but reportedly recently had multiple staff defections to Mozilla Foundation. It was developed by Marc Andressen, co-author of Mosaic, the first popular Web browser, which he wrote in 1992 while a student at the University of Illinois.
"Netscape Navigator is not dead; it's just been taken off life support with no new updates being released. For most of the Internet community, the news that support will cease is like hearing that some ancient rock and roll legend has died," said Tim Mills-Groninger, former associate director of the IT Resource Center in Chicago. "Some people morn by listening to their collection of the artists' music and go to work tired from staying up too late. "Most just say 'huh, I thought he died years ago.'"
For many people, according to Mills-Groninger, the choice of browser has been a fashion statement, with Navigator usage "shifting from a turn of the Century 'I'm a cool early adopter who will not be swayed by monocultural juggernaut that is Microsoft' to 'I'm comfortable and maybe a bit lazy and when I get around to upgrading from my Pentium II Windows ME machine I'll upgrade to Firefox."
The risks of staying with Netscape Navigator a while longer are the increased chance of a machine exploit by malicious code and that something will break -- either in not being able to interact with a Web site as the designer intended or Navigator not installing on a new machine, he said.