Don’t worry, most people don’t. It was epic, David vs. Goliath, stuff. Netscape vs. Microsoft. These two fought battles that came to define the mode of competition on internet time. The war was, basically, over browser dominance. Netscape had developed and introduced one of the very first browsers. This had landed them a commanding share of the market. Giant Microsoft soon realized the value of the internet and launched its own browser: Internet Explorer. Thus, the war began.
Of course, back then, the internet was still relatively new and unchartered. Do keep in mind that it had all started as a research project of the US Department of Defense, later joined by universities before spreading to the rest of us. The internet users back then were, generally, people in love with technology: mainly students and research types. These people mainly used the internet to share information and to keep in touch with each others’ work.
A few years down the road, the internet had become somewhat more accessible to the average person. At this point in time, the internet was still used to share information albeit not just academic and research material. Newsgroups, discussions forums, bulletin boards and a host of other similar things had sprung up. The internet community had just got bigger. Since the net was not yet a major commercial attraction, what drove its continual growth and rise in importance?
Man is social. The possibility of the development of human relationships in a virtual, online community was and still is the real driving force behind the internet. That’s why online villages, centered on information sharing, were springing up and spreading like wild fire.
Besides, the usefulness of any network increases as the number of users of that network increase. It is actually some sort of infinite cyclic process – a useful network attracts more users who make it more useful thus attracting even more users, and so on. This is Metcalf’s Law. But I digress. Back to our story.
The great browser wars ended with the defeat of Netscape. Microsoft used its financial muscle and showed impressive agility to beat its younger rival into submission. After sinking into loss-making Netscape fired their last salvo of the war: they gave away their browser’s source code free to anyone who could access the net. This is like Coca-Cola publishing their secret formula on every coke bottle! Why would Netscape do this?
Many of the people at Netscape back then were hardcore technology buffs (infact, many had helped develop the first web browser). Back in those days, such people were still the majority of internet users. They were amongst those who believed that the internet should be a place of freedom and community. Think equality and anonymity; freedom of expression and association. The internet was a beautiful idea. Surprisingly (or perhaps not-so surprisingly) many people back then belonged to the so called ABM (Anyone but Microsoft) crew. Corporate giants were seen as foreign invaders who did not care at all about the beautiful new idea.
Netscape was thus perhaps something of an e-martyr. They gave up their browser, their labor of love, just so that their internet was not destroyed. The mozilla project was born in 1998 when Netscape made their source code public. Mozilla Firefox is now an award winning browser widely regarded as the best. It is still free and open source. (You can download it here.)
Moral of the story? In our lovely country, the internet is grossly underused. I am convinced that you cannot gain substantially from anything unless you understand and/or love it. You surely benefit in someway when you send email, but do you want to limit your gains to just that?
The internet is still a beautiful idea: It is still community based. The only difference is that it is now also commercial. The only way to ensure that you substantially gain, financially or otherwise, from the internet is by embracing it and loving it. Get involved. Join the internet community.
Possibly, a good starting point may be one of the most fascinating internet projects: wikipedia – the free, online encyclopedia that anyone can edit and contribute to!
If we increase our presence on the internet, it will become more useful to us.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy: