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Retro Browser War: IE6 Vs. Netscape In 2011 211

jbrodkin writes "What if you took the raw, pre-patched, 10-year-old versions of Internet Explorer 6 and Netscape 6.1 and tried to surf the modern Web? What would happen? You might think firing up IE6 or Netscape would lead to an immediate onslaught of viruses, but just for fun, I decided to spend some time using these two ancient browsers. It turns out IE6 is still capable of surfing much of the modern Internet, and can play Flash and Java content, but Netscape's troubles show it probably died a justified death."
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Retro Browser War: IE6 Vs. Netscape In 2011

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  • Or possibly... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:02PM (#35302392)

    Possibly, the fact that large numbers of corporate desktops still have IE 6 means that a non-trivial number of Web programmers code to where IE6 will still work, whereas no one is using old Netscape, even for fun, except for this dude.

    • Re:Or possibly... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by xSauronx ( 608805 ) <xsauronxdamnit&gmail,com> on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:06PM (#35302478)

      Really. I work at corporate for a medical system with a few hospitals and clinics...only late last year was IE7 approved for deployment because (finally) a couple of key software vendors supported it. Deployment is still optional at this point in time, but theres talking of making it automatic soon.

      • by Machtyn ( 759119 )
        Same field. We're still trying to get certain software to play nice with IE7 and IE8. Therefore, IE6 is still deployed to all computers.
        • We're still trying to get certain software to play nice with IE7 and IE8. Therefore, IE6 is still deployed to all computers.

          Deploy IE6 and Chrome Frame. That way, sites that opt in to Chrome will get Chrome, and all other sites will get IE6.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Really this is an apples versus oranges comparison: IE 6 was last updated in 2008. Netscape 6.x in 2002. It's like comparing a Mac G3 versus a modern QuadCore PC. Of COURSE the older technology will not work as well as the new one

        If they wanted to do a real comparison, try:
        - IE 6 (2008) versus Netscape 9 (also 2008)
        - IE 5 (last update: 2000) versus Netscape 4.5 (2001) - both will be about equally broken.

        • Re:Or possibly... (Score:4, Informative)

          by w_dragon ( 1802458 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @03:28PM (#35303638)
          They thought of that. He went to great lengths to get a version of IE6 that was released in 2001, no patches allowed. It's in the first page of the article. I know, I must be new here.
          • True, but even so, the fact that IE6 was updated 6 years more recently indicates that more people are using it, and even the old unpatched version is more likely to be compatible with current stuff (because a lot of current stuff gets retrofitted to support it, and IE6 has not undergone a major structural change,so writing support for the 2008 version means you're most likely also writing support for the 2001 version).

            A lot of web developers still write code to support IE6's peculiarities. That's because a

            • by sznupi ( 719324 )
              At least some move away is finally visible, even via few large sites. Which... appears to help some oldish browsers, if they aimed for standards / etc.

              (I keep an old dual P2 around, with Opera 9.27 (a good "classic" release) - and it tends to work better with newly overhauled sites; it's very near 8.0 release, so that's 2005 time frame (and of course assuming something can work without js, considering browser from pre-speedup era and slow CPUs); I imagine especially old Konqueror releases might be similar
          • I didn't read TFA, but did they also use a similarly patched Windows installation? (if it was XP, there should be literally no patches)

            I say it matters because a good portion of that makes IE work is built into Windows, so having an updated Windows means having an updated IE...

        • P.S.

          Also Netscape didn't die (as in no longer being used by people). They split in half to form Netscape and the Mozilla Foundation. Netscape 5 was developed and renamed as Mozilla Communicator, which then split into SeaMonkey Communicator and Firefox Browser.

        • More accurately a lot of developers are taking great pains to keep IE6 reasonably functional because they don't want to give up that market share.

          All this article demonstrates is:

          1. 10 years ago the browser market was greatly fragmented, and
          2. a 10 year old browser still commands a significant market share.
    • large numbers of corporate desktops still have IE 6

      Hah! We don't use that old shit where I work, buddy. We upgraded to IE 6.5 years ago...

    • We just recently stopped supporting IE6 in our products. A lot of the IE6 compatibility features are still there, we are just not checking new features in our products with IE6 (and a lot of them will still work with IE6 just not confirmed). Last year IE6 testing was limited to making sure the product functionally worked however the niceties such as UI effects were not supported. We test with IE9 Beta. And leaving IE7-8 to be functional, due to its crappy support of CSS.

      • same here. 'use IE6 if you want to....but don't call us if it doesn't work'....this is probably the same tune that will be sung for a few years.
    • Re:Or possibly... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Waccoon ( 1186667 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:13PM (#35304196)

      I just did a clean install of Win2K (IE 5.5) under VM, and put on Netscape 4 for fun. The results weren't pretty. IE 5.5 did pretty well on my sites which made no accommodations for IE at all. Netscape regularly showed blank pages because it choked on the CSS, and some perfectly valid code even made the browser crash.

      This perfectly reflects my experience when I was in college. I stopped using Netscape because it was a slow, cranky, crash-prone piece of junk, especially on the Mac. People have fond memories thanks to the nostalgic factor. In reality, Netscape 4 was a direct response to the IE monopoly panic, and the company screwed up big time. They killed themselves.

      Apparently, I'm alone in my memories that Netscape wasn't that great a product, thus making it part of yet another VHS vs Betamax.

      • One thing I liked about NS was that it was multi-threaded. This meant that it was still working while it was redrawing the page, a handy feature in the time of much slower computers and dial up internet. IE always seemed to be getting blocked.

    • Yeah, this is ridiculous.

      IE6 surfs the modern web better because the modern web was built to support IE6 (due to significant market share until very recently).

      On technical merits, IE6 "deserved" to die just as much as Netscape, but it was entrenched by virtue of being built into Windows XP, and thus had to be supported.

  • Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:03PM (#35302404)

    Up until relatively recently you absolutely had to include whatever hacks were necessary to get IE6 running on your site because it was the default browser on Windows and had a huge market share. Netscape hasn't had that sort of status in a really long time. So of course IE6 probably looks pretty good in comparison.

    Now, look at more recent sites that don't include that kludge and see if it still looks OK.

    • by Lennie ( 16154 )

      Only recently, many corps especially in the US still us it. :-(

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      No you didn't. Lazy people where just that, lazy and didn't create website that can handle both.
      It's not hard, and it gives a direct upgrade. But no, webmasters whined and stewed in their ignorance instead of actual work.

      And yes, I have done just that, many times.

      • Seriously, when's the last time that anybody bothered to check Netscape compatibility? I mean Firefox has been around since I was in college, and I think by then I didn't know anybody that was using Netscape. I'd be surprised if there were many websites in use then that are still in use now that haven't gone through some pretty significant updates.

        While we're at it, why don't we check to see if Mosaic is still workable for browsing the web.

    • by _xeno_ ( 155264 )

      Up until relatively recently you absolutely had to include whatever hacks were necessary to get IE6 running on your site

      It's still true, to some extent. The webapp I'm working on was originally supposed to support IE6 because that's what the customer was using.

      Unfortunately, infosec has declared that IE6 is a security risk and that having it installed on any machine that can connect to any network is forbidden.

      So we tried to convince the customer to upgrade to version 7 while talking with infosec about allowing us to install IE6 on a virtual machine which has limited net access. (No, we can't just install the web app on the

      • Given the choice, I'd rather have your infosec department over what I'm saddled with...

        Our corporate overlords, in their infinite wisdom, decided to outsource our IT department to CGI years ago. Now, whenever something goes wrong, even though I have administrator access to my workstation and am perfectly capable of fixing it myself, I have to file a ticket with CGI, wait a day or two until somebody in Panama looks at the ticket and sends it to the local department in my own city, who may either come in to f

      • Our new standard approach is to just make sure our sites are USABLE in IE6 (which means you can read everything, and navigate).

        But that's all we guarantee now. We no longer care if it looks like crap. No more PNGfixes. No more time spent debugging CSS that works in everything except IE6.

        I know a number of other agencies that are taking this approach now too. It's about freakin time.

    • by foobsr ( 693224 )
      Now, look at more recent sites that don't include that kludge and see if it still looks OK.

      The new design here completely fails with Netscape 9 (or is it the other way round?).

  • by Even on Slashdot FOE ( 1870208 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:04PM (#35302430)

    The reason IE6 still works is because it HAD to work. People made web apps that only work in IE6 and then Microsoft broke the compatibility in every version after. I admit that if companies were more willing to update their apps IE6 would not still be required by some companies, but you tell them they have to spend their money porting apps.

    Didn't work, did it?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hairyfeet ( 841228 )

      I would say this is one time we should all be damned happy that MSFT didn't stick with its famous backwards compatibility. Why? One word: ActiveX.

      At the time ActiveX sounded like a good idea, an easy way to write code for intranets that could be easily deployed and updated from the corporate office but sadly whomever was in charge of security at MSFT was playing hooky that week and it turned out to be a malware writers wet dream. Thanks to how deeply ActiveX was allowed to hook into the underlying OS simply

      • Re:Obvious (Score:4, Informative)

        by foobsr ( 693224 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:22PM (#35304334) Homepage Journal
        Remember this thing came out nearly a decade ago and those "web standards" you fellas like so much really didn't exist as anything more than proposals at the time, most of which were completely changed after IE 6 had already been released.

        I disagree. []

      • The main reason for building web-apps in the first place is that you have a central point where you roll out your applications and you don't need to touch the client. Using ActiveX client-components defeats that. It is lack of an enterprise software architecture that allows this thing to take place. I managed to get my CIO to back me up on this in our company around 2001 (we called it "webbased programming standards", nowadays I'd call it our "Enterprise architecture requirements for webbased software"), an

      • So we should all be glad that someone at MSFT got the memo and realized that ActiveX was a seriously BAD idea and killed it deader than Dixie.

        I hate to break it for you, but IE9 supports ActiveX.

  • Considering IE6 has had an unduly long life in today's software world, it's no surprise. There are still businesses out there that rely with almost thumb-sucking adherence to keeping their sites IE6 compatible.

    I'm firmly in the camp of letting IE6 have the browser wars, and letting it graze peacefully into the great software pasture in the sky, but alas, we're nowhere near that area yet.

  • Considering how much life IE6 still has in it on the internet, and how much of the web was deliberately broken to be "best viewed in internet explorer" and the length of IE6's dominance, I'm not surprised people are creating pages that are mostly compatible with it.

    Netscape, however, was pushed out by loads of incompatible web pages and a failure to keep up. So yeah, IE6 is going to still work while Netscape is going to be broken. Thankfully, we have a much more diverse base of browsers that basically drive

    • by Machtyn ( 759119 )
      But you have to admit, it was kind of cool that he tried and reported on it.
      • Definitely cool. Actually, he piques my curiosity. I'm almost tempted to find a copyt of IE5 - or was it 5.5 - with the security updates. When that came out, I was all happy, thinking that the security updates would help to keep the wife out of trouble. And, it seemed to help. Soon after that, IE6 came out, and we upgraded - so I didn't spend much time on 5 or 5.5, whichever it was. Netscape? I never learned to like it. Somehow, I associated it with AOL, and I positively HATED AOL. Unfair, I know,
  • IE6 in all its horror is supported by most frameworks BECAUSE corporate desktops and mindless consumers stayed on it for so very long.

    • Ah, I see that mine is not a minority opinion.

    • "Mindless consumers" upgraded, either because they bought new PCs that came with IE7 or IE8, or because Windows Update would update their browser for them, or because they'd get a dialog box offering to upgrade their browser, click Yes, install some piece of malware toolbarness and have to uninstall IE entirely and upgrade to a new version to kill it off.

      Corporate desktops, yeah, because the corporations were using applications developed for IE6 (using toolsets that were specifically incompatible with Mozil

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:06PM (#35302476)
    This week I had to do a Win 98 install to test some software. My install came with IE4 and I had some fun trying various sites to see what would and wouldn't work. It was interesting to see how well (and not well) sites degraded to an utter crap view.
    • This week I had to do a Win 98 install to test some software. My install came with IE4 and I had some fun trying various sites to see what would and wouldn't work. It was interesting to see how well (and not well) sites degraded to an utter crap view.

      IE4? That's nothing. In my time... []

    • Hi OzPeter! I hope you don't mind my asking but I just got to know WTF are you testing that you needed to test for Win98 compatibility. I mean having to service some seriously ancient crap but even I haven't come across a Win9X machine in 4 years.

      In fact the last Win9X machine I came across actually being used (it was WinME eeek!) was an old graphics artist that used it for Macromedia Xres. I had to build him an NOS (new, old stock) Win2K PC with a 1.8GHz AMD Athlon along with 1Gb of RAM and a 80Gb HD, all

      • by hesiod ( 111176 )

        So i just got to know WTH else is out there that actually needs Win9x support?

        We have HVAC monitoring software that will not run on anything newer that W98. It was running on an old laptop in a dirty elevator machinery room, and unsuprisingly it finally died (last year). The oldest machine we had available was a Dell Optiplex 270 (made in about 2005), which was lucky, because that was probably one of the last devices w98 could possibly be installed on. After we got that in service we had to figure out what to do if that one fails (being a Dell it will, soon).

        So we now are the prou

  • As the article mentions, IE6 is still used by millions of users. Website designers still try to retrofit at least some of their functionality to work w/ this ancient scourge. You don't hear anybody trying to make sure their website will work with Netscape.
  • Really? People still have emotions about Netscape Vs. IE? Get a life! ;)
    • You would too, if you'd spent miserable years of your life being forced to code for IE6, the broken mistake that should have been retired years before.
      • Well if Netscape won... You would still be writting non-standard stuff... Remember Layers vs. IE Css.

      • If you were miserable you should have found another profession. No one forced you to develop anything...
  • by bl8n8r ( 649187 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:10PM (#35302524)
    No viri or malware here!  I was.... uh,popup... *click* ..I was just say... what the?..*click*...*click*... I was just going to sa... *click*..*click*... +++ ath0
    • I think I can see the actual web page. Its just there underneath the 15 toolbars which magically came out of nowhere.

  • Long live Netscape (Score:5, Insightful)

    by just_another_sean ( 919159 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:20PM (#35302680) Journal

    Posted from SeaMonkey []. Personally I still like having an HTML editor, browser and email client all in one package.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:20PM (#35302686) Journal

    If you had a Win98 machine that you'd like to access the web from occasionally, what would be the best browser to do so? Firefox 2.0? Are there any projects still targeting OSs this old? What about something really crazy, like Mac OS 7? Or Amiga OS?

    • by bedouin ( 248624 )

      If you're in Mac OS 9 Classilla [] is a relatively up to date port of Mozilla. I've used it a few times and it's quite nice.

      Until a couple years ago iCab was still supported on 68k Macs.

      Timberwolf [] appears to be Firefox for Amigas, granted you probably won't get it running on your 500.

      Lynx still runs on pretty much anything if you're willing to compile it, and one can argue it's kept up to date.

    • by armanox ( 826486 )

      Opera 10 is probably the most recent browser for Win 98 support.

      • The original Opera was wonderful - the install image only used half a floppy disk, and it was really fast! It took me a while to accept tabbed browsing (Opera's original tabbed-only was annoying, but being able to have tabs and windows both is great.)

    • by Scoth ( 879800 )

      If you install a little addon called KernelEx in Win98, you can use up to at least Firefox 3.x just fine on it. Haven't tried the 4.x betas as yet, but 3.x works. Thunderbird should work too

      Chrome doesn't seem to work yet in KernelEx but it tries. Maybe someday.

      I still use Mac OS 7.x on an old LC475 for fun, and tend to alternate between Netscape 4 with Stylesheets and JS turned off, and the last version of iCab that supports m68k. Netscape was actually very usable for general reading, and worked better tha

    • The most recent Firefox you can use day to day on win98se is Firefox will install and run, but, in at least one ancient install I have to pamper, it won't run the next time you boot the machine without removal and reinstallation; you only get one good run per install (so make it good).

  • So, Netscape 6.1 used the Mozilla rendering engine.

    For reference, Firefox (nee Phoenix) 0.1 used the Mozilla 1.1 rendering engine. Firefox 3.6.13 uses the Mozilla rendering engine.

    Needless to say, the commonly used version of Mozilla's rendering engine has been constantly updated, while IE6 still has market-share to this day.

    So, not surprisingly, web site authors don't make sites for ancient Mozilla versions, while they do for ancient IE versions.

  • He's comparing a Javascript benchmark in a virtual machine to one on his Windows 7 native install.

    • by ZosX ( 517789 )

      Yeah, because the 10% loss in performance would make that big of a difference.

  • I just re-installed XP sp 2 last night on an old laptop which comes with IE 6. I didn't really think of it as old. It worked fine until I was able to update,restart,update,restart,update,restart,update,restart,update,restart and then update to IE 8.
  • Netscape 6+ (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dracos ( 107777 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @02:38PM (#35302940)

    After AOL bought Netscape, they decided to keep the Netscape browser on life support (but strangle it anyway) by releasing versions 6.0 and later, which were cut from the maturing Mozilla 5 codebase:

    • Netscape 6.0 = Mozilla .5
    • Netscape 6.1 = Mozilla .9
    • Netscape 6.2 = Mozilla .9
    • Netscape 7.0 = Mozilla 1.1
    • Netscape 7.1 = Mozilla 1.4
    • Netscape 7.2 = Mozilla 1.7
    • Netscape 8.0 = Mozilla 1.7

    At this point (May 2005) Netscape was irrelevant, as Firefox had taken over among the tech savvy, and word was spreading beyond us. Also, AOL had seen fit to saddle Netscape with ugly, ad-infested themes.

    The 6x and 7x lines were premature at best, almost as if they were designed to nail the brand's coffin shut, which they did.

    Source: [], and my own memory of the time.

    • by eln ( 21727 )
      Right, which makes this a rather pointless exercise. By version 6, Netscape was not Netscape in any meaningful sense, and its market share was so small that developers barely even knew it existed.

      A much more interesting exercise would be to see how Netscape 4 and IE4 fare on today's web, since NS4 is probably the last Netscape browser to have any kind of significant market share.
    • It imaged display:table/table-row/table-cell better than Firefox 3.6.13. Much better, in fact, it was downright gorgeous. It couldn't handle display:inline-block, but it handled Mozilla's "-moz" CSS for rounded rectangles just fine. jQuery 1.5 traversed its DOM perfectly, but it reported wrong sizes for block elements in .width() and .height(). (It was in QuirksMode, and by that I mean that $.support.boxModel was false. So it appears that jQuery used the MSIE 6/7 QuirksMode algorithm for height and width, w
  • Similarly, Top Gear should do an episode where they try to see how practical early-1900s cars are in today's world. Think of all the manual crank-starting, rear-only belt-braking, 1WD fun to be had at speeds of up to 30mph.

    Maybe they've already done something like this and I just don't know about it.

    • Similarly, Top Gear should do an episode where they try to see how practical early-1900s cars are in today's world. Think of all the manual crank-starting, rear-only belt-braking, 1WD fun to be had at speeds of up to 30mph.

      Maybe they've already done something like this and I just don't know about it.

      They've already done something like this and you just don't know about it :P

      They did a feature a while ago about "the first car to use 'modern' controls" involving lots of failing to brake and difficulty starting some very early cars. Clip here: []

  • The Netscape name has died a death but its engine, Mozilla, is approaching 30% usage now.

    There's a very good reason you can still surf with IE6, and that's because most web devs like myself still have to bloody support it. It hung around for so long that even now I'm still having to put specific IE6 fixes into everything I do. I'm willing to bet if you took away all the IE6 specific javascript and css from every website then the results would be completely reversed. I can't remember what the Moz 0.9 engine

  • no such thing.
    At most it shows the most 'web master' are complete idiots.

  • At least use IE4 and Netscape 4 Gold. Netscape post 4 was the AOL crappified Netscape.
  • It turns out IE6 is still capable of surfing much of the modern Internet, and can play Flash and Java content, but Netscape's troubles show it probably died a justified death."

    Well, if IE6 had died instead of Netscape, then the "Netscape standard" might be able to surf the modern web, did you think about that ?

    And we would all be talking about "the time when Microsoft tried to pervertise the Internet browser market."

  • All this means is that an unmodified version of Netscape 6 didn't stand the test of time as well. Netscape 6 (and up) was based on the same underlying software as Mozillla/SeaMonkey and Firefox. Were Netscape still being updated today, it would be running a newer version of Gecko, making it a very capable browser.

  • I recently did the following. On an old laptop I installed Windows 95. Then IE4 and Netscape Communicator 4.08

    I couldn't browse anything. I mean, not even

  • And like the common cold, it's not going to cause as much damage as say, smallpox - even though there's no cure for it yet.

  • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @04:37PM (#35304678) Homepage Journal

    I did exactly that last year in a Virtual PC VM. ISTR I had to install IE, Win32s, and MS's 16-bit TCP/IP stack to get it all working. The result was surprisingly usable, considering the OS dates from the early '90s. Not to say that it rendered everything well, or that it didn't crash, but it was an interesting exercise in retrocomputing.

    It did a lot better than Mosaic 3 on WinXP, which would crash upon loading /any/ website, so far as I could tell.

  • I couldn't stop myself from reading this post in Pixelfari [].

Evolution is a million line computer program falling into place by accident.