August 7, 2002

Why AOL doesn’t want Netscape

The word is starting to spread that when AOL 8.0 comes out this fall, there will be no Netscape attached. I had been looking forward to them sticking a shiv in the ribs of all those IE-centric developers out there, but I guess that was too much of a pipe dream. And, deep down in my heart, I think I knew how unrealistic it was, from a business point of view.

Think about it: Netscape 6.0 was a PR disaster. The product was taking to long to finish, so they took an early beta version and tried to pass it off as the real thing. The public didn’t know anything about the Mozilla project or what version NN6 was based on; all they knew was that 6.0 blew, and they weren’t going to dump their trusty NN4 for it. And, even though Mozila progressed and Netscape 6.1 and 6.2 were light years ahead of the first release, the damage had already been done. Netscape 6 was cursed. Jumping version numbers again was probably the smartest thing they could have done, and if there’s enough of a campaign to let people know that Netscape 7.0 fixes all the problems 6.0 had, it just might pick up some market share, especially from the NN4 users. (Speaking of which, when is Netscape 7 going to come out of preview? It’s been ages now!)

Back to AOL. Netscape’s reputation is still tarnished, and it remains to be seen if 7.0 will be better received. So of course AOL isn’t going to bet the farm on it quite yet. IE is the market leader, by a large percentage, and that can create a huge feedback loop, as this article shows. It doesn’t make sense for AOL to move away from IE, even if they own Netscape, even if Mozilla is better at interpreting standards, even if they don’t have the best relationship with Microsoft. They know that if people upgrade to AOL 8.0, with Netscape, and web pages start breaking, those viewers aren’t going to blame the site developers, they’re going to blame AOL. And they can’t afford another PR crisis right now.

So, no Netscape in AOL. Maybe, if Netscape 7 is a hit, AOL 9.0 might have a different face. But unless something big happens to the market and the industry, I wouldn’t bet on that either.

Update, 10/10/2002:
AOL 8.0 is out, and there is no Netscape. More here.

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog

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