Tales from the Browser wars: Mozilla stomps Internet Explorer

Recently I did some “The History of the web” talks for various institutions. While preparing the story to tell, I remembered one specific tale from 1997. It was a tale from the first browser wars, when Microsoft battled Netscape for world browser domination.

When Internet Explorer 4 came out in October 1997, Microsoft held a huge release party. Not in the company’s hometown of Redmond, though, but rather in the Silicon Valley. Close to the Netscape headquarters.

And what a party it must have been! The Internet Explorer developers spotted a huge three times four metres stage prop in the shape of the browser’s logo at the party. Fuelled with excitement of the latest release, they decided that this stage prop would be a good fit for Netscape’s company gardens.

The IE crew in front of the truck. Internet Explorer 4 just got released

The Microsoft employees ordered and paid a truck driver to deliver the prop to Netscape’s now legendary headquarters in Mountain View. As some sort of “good morning” greetings from their biggest competitor. Or a friendly, if childish prank that could turn into some food for the local press.

The IE crew in front of the Netscape building. Package delivered

This is the story as it was told in the “Download: The true story of the Internet” documentary. You can watch this episode on Archive.org, I also got the images from there.

What the documentary didn’t show was the reaction by Netscape. Sometime around midnight the Microsoft programmers deployed the huge “e” in front of the company’s entrance, took some photos, had a few good laughs and left. What they didn’t know is that some people were still in the Netscape building, watching the juvenile prank unfold. Being jokey themselves, the Netscape employees decided to answer Microsoft’s enormous greeting card immediately. As former Netscaper John Francis Stracke wrote in rec.humor.funny:

They gathered people to help, and they tipped over the IE logo so that it was lying on its back, spraypainted “Netscape Now” on the side facing the street…and then carried over our 7-foot-tall statue of Mozilla (Netscape’s Godzillaoid mascot) and stood it up on top of the IE logo.
The next day: Mozilla stomps IE. Image taken from snafu.de

So this is what they got! A grinning, self confident Dinosaur stomping the big blue “e”. A sign stating the current browser market share (Netscape 72%, Microsoft 18%) undermined the mascot’s “Thumb up!” gesture.

The current market share back then. Netscape 72%. Microsoft 18%.

Some people stated that Microsoft was keen to get media attention with their prank. No matter if this was their original intention, local news and TV did catch up on this story. News agency Reuters published an article interviewing former Netscape spokesperson Chris Holten:

"It seems awfully immature to resort to fraternity tactics
to draw attention," Holten said. "We're winning the battle. It's something you'd expect from a startup, not the largest software company in the world."

Little did they know how their world would soon change.

I was an avid reader of Newsgroups and subscriber to “rec.humor.funny”. But from everything I read there this is actually the one story I still remember to this day. Juvenile prank? Oh yes, definitely. But also somehow exciting and adventures.

Browser vendors refrain now from logo and mascot pranks. They rather send cake now congratulating on new releases. All for the better.