Long ago and not so far away, I worked down the street from Netscape. It was the glory years, and many of my co-workers jumped ship with stars in their eyes and dreams of a glorious future that included retiring before age 30. A few of them did so, but most were of course too late to get the kind of juicy stock options that could enable that sort of thing.
A recurrent theme among the Ex-Scapees, with JWZ perhaps the most prominent, is “Microsoft killed our company”. Some go for a softer form, “Microsoft stunted Internet innovation”; when I once asked for an example, the speaker pointed to VRML. Since he was a friend, I didn’t laugh, just stared open-mouthed in shock.
But the strong claim, that Microsoft’s entry into the web market killed Netscape, has never made sense to me. Because I’ve never understood how Netscape planned to make money in the first place.
I mean, I was there, a not-quite-literal stone’s throw down the street from their headquarters, watching them burn through insane amounts of money to produce only 2.5 products: a free browser, a rudimentary mail/calendar suite that was free to anyone who had an account with pretty much any ISP, and a very specialized item that was already facing competition, Commerce Server.
Everyone was already using free alternatives to Commerce Server for everything but their main secure-ordering site, and those alternatives existed before Microsoft released IS and IIS, and were getting better with every release.
So what was the plan? How was Netscape ever going to make enough money to offset their massive burn rate? What were they going to sell that someone else couldn’t create a competitor for? If Microsoft could kill them so quickly and so easily, with a product that was utter crap, how did they ever expect to succeed?
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