A couple of months ago Jeff Atwood pointed out a 60 minutes long PBS documentary about Netscape during the dot com boom called Code Rush. He seems to like it, so I downloaded it off Youtube where its makers put it up under a Creative Commons license. To quote Atwood:
Remember when people charged money for a web browser? That was Netscape.
Code Rush is a PBS documentary recorded at Netscape from 1998 – 1999, focusing on the open sourcing of the Netscape code. As the documentary makes painfully clear, this wasn’t an act of strategy so much as an act of desperation. That’s what happens when the company behind the world’s most ubiquitous operating system decides a web browser should be a standard part of the operating system.
Everyone in the documentary knows they’re doomed; in fact, the phrase “we’re doomed” is a common refrain throughout the film. But despite the gallows humor and the dark tone, parts of it are oddly inspiring. These are engineers who are working heroic, impossible schedules for a goal they’re not sure they can achieve â€” or that they’ll even survive as an organization long enough to even finish.
What Atwood is perhaps too polite to mention is that the behemoth Microsoft wasn’t just competing with Netscape at the time, but it was doing so with a superior product and with the deck stacked for them—Microsoft owned the platform upon which Netscapes products had to run. These were the days of the Microsoft monopoly trials.
(Downloading off Youtube? I use the Download Helper plug-in for Firefox. I don’t entirely trust them—their website looks way too slick—, but am too lazy to investigate further. In other words, I am mentioning the plug-in, not recommending it.)