Lost In AOL’s Maze


Updated 12-31-07.

News of AOL ending support for their once-revered Netscape browser got me taking a year-end trip down Digg.com to review this year’s stories about Netscape: How their social news site was moved to Propeller.com and how Netscape.com would become a portal once again. I came to a startling conclusion: AOL is not just a collection of websites; it’s a sticky, tangled-up maze of redirects.

When you try to visit Netscape.com these days, your browser heads over to Netscape.AOL.com. Instead of a blue Navigator wheel in the tab, you get the AOL Evil Eye™. When you click a story link, your browser finds News.AOL.com – unless you click a link for a political  story – then it rushes away to News.Netscape.com but gets flipped off to News.Propeller.com. For more of this torment, visit WOW.com; it gets amnesia now and thinks it’s at Wowinsider.com.

I’ve tried to find an explanation for these redirects, but I can’t. What are the chances crazy AOL programmers have threatened to quit if they can’t run the servers the way they  want to – and redirect these sites just to piss off everyone else? Maybe they actually hate AOL and want all their traffic to die. (Hey guys, if you’re reading this, you’re doing a great job; page views are way down.) Here, I’ve drawn up a chart just to confuse you even more.

Redirects suck

People are shocked AOL has turned their backs on Netscape, which according to Internet folklore, was the only browser anyone used until Microsoft scored a monopoly in 1995 by wiring IE into their operating systems. AOL chose IE to run their browsers in 1996, and didn’t change their minds, not even after buying Netscape for $4.2 billion in 1999. So why did AOL pay such an ungodly sum for it? No one knows. Why is AOL abandoning it? To concentrate on making more ad money, of course. They’re not in the browser or subscription business anymore…except that, yes, they are…thanks to AOL’s deepening split personality, their businesses no longer know each other at all.

Mozilla was created with AOL’s help in 2003 and opened their code to Netscape’s developers for what would one day become the Firefox, Seamonkey, and Mozilla browsers, but Netscape’s development never kept pace. Most people haven’t used Netscape in years so they don’t know there was one final code push last year, giving Netscape the look and feel of say, Firefox 1.2, and no one ever will, either.

While I’m at it, it’s my civic duty to remind you to lose IE and get yourself a real browser here, here, or here. I’m tired of recoding websites because you’re too lazy to look for a better browser. If it’s your boss who refuses to use Firefox, tell him the name “Firefox” is a Sanskrit to English translation of the phrase “secure and successful in business” and maybe he’ll change his mind. You never know…

I’ve always wanted to link to a list like this, so here’s a list of almost every browser ever made, from the classic Mosaic browser to the latest version of Firefox.