Flashback to 1994

One of the early developers working on Netscape Navigator has put the 1994 version of the company’s website online. [via kottke.org]

One interesting surprise comes on the Netscape 1.0 product page:

IT’S CONSISTENT: Netscape is available – and is functionally identical – on Windows, Mac, and Unix X Window systems. This common look, feel, and behavior is a major advantage in mixed computing environments, where training and support are minimized.

This “feature”—an iron-fisted cross-platform consistency—dates the browser’s development considerably, in a more subtle (and more interesting) way than, say, the <b> tags in the original content or the Netscape products logo. To see how, compare it to Mozilla UE designer Alex Faaborg’s position on Firefox 3 from late last year:

Visual integration with Windows and OS X is our primary objective for the Firefox 3 refresh.

Faaborg goes on to detail their efforts on both operating systems—the post is more than 1700 words long—and to point to related discussions of Linux integration (significantly more complicated due to the variety of distributions available). The post has prompted 105 comments in the months between its appearance and this writing.

More to the point, taking just my home OS as an example, there are more integration-related bugs filed than I care to count, ranging from the minutest of interface details to heart-wrenching cries for help.

In short, the Firefox dev team has taken great pains to work towards seamless integration with a variety of operating systems, and the user community has shown great interest in this movement.

What has changed since Netscape’s early days to propel these integration efforts? My guess, an obvious one, is that we no longer live in a computer culture in which the biggest decision-makers about browsers are administrators of large-scale computing systems. Though many of us do use systems on which we have limited control over software, at work and in computer labs, we also use our home machines, on which we have free reign. And even on those limited-access computers, we may be presented with several browsers to choose from.

Evidence of this older model may be even more striking, in the pitch for Netscape 1.0 above, than the cross-platform consistency itself; the audience for the pitch is clearly a set of people in a position to impose use of a single browser on many other people. By contrast, one need only look at the background image on the Firefox website to determine the target audience: empowered single users participating in a consumer economy. 14 years is a long time, but my, how things have changed.

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