Worst Miss Ever? Microsoft Tried To Buy Netscape In 1994

marc andreessen time

Microsoft tried to buy browser maker Netscape in late 1994. But Netscape turned down the offer because the price was too low.

That could be the biggest miss in history: Microsoft eventually created its own browser and gave it away with Windows. That spawned the antitrust case that almost split the company in two and ended up costing billions.

Brendan Eich, now with Mozilla, worked at Netscape at the time. He told ComputerWorld that Netscape developed JavaScript as an answer to a language that Microsoft was developing called VBScript. ” Eich knew this because Microsoft had discussed it with Netscape while making a bid for the company in “late 1994.”

This timing matches up with the better known history of Microsoft and the browser war. Microsoft first tried to buy a browser called BookLink, but lost out to AOL in October. It then licensed the Mosaic technology from Spyglass in 1995, and used that as the basis for Internet Explorer.

Presumably, in between Microsoft talked to Netscape as well.

Imagine how different the tech business would be if Microsoft had come back with a bigger offer and succeeded.

There would have been no browser wars and no Department of Justice antitrust case.

That antitrust case spawned a bunch of other antitrust suits and investigations from private companies (Sun, IBM, Novell, and RealNetworks, to name a few), state governments, and the European Union. All told, those suits ended up costing Microsoft more than $10 billion in fines, and probably billions more in lost opportunities, wasted time, and legal expenses. Not to mention making the company a little bit more timid in its dealings with competitors and partners.

Also, Netscape would never have gone public and kicked off the beginning of the dot-com boom. (Although undoubtedly some other company would have.)

Marc Andreessen wouldn’t have been on the cover of Time Magazine in bare feet, and probably wouldn’t have been nearly as rich, famous, or influential in technology as he is today.

Now he’s investing in a bunch of cloud-based startups like Box.net that are devoted to knocking Microsoft off its perch once and for all.

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