February 24, 2011, 8:53 AM — 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?
A decade ago, Internet Explorer 6 and Netscape fought for the hearts and minds of the Web-surfing public. But since then, IE6 has been vilified as unfit for use and abandoned by its creator, and Netscape has faded into the history books. Could you still surf the Web with these two ancient browsers?
You might think firing up IE6 or Netscape would lead to an immediate onslaught of viruses, followed by your computer growing a mutant arm to unplug itself or perhaps commit suicide by bashing in its own hard drive and processor. The reality is a bit different - but only a bit.
Just for fun (my definition of "fun" is fairly warped), I decided to spend some time using the original, pre-patched version of IE6 and a version of Netscape released at roughly the same time. It turns out IE6 is still capable of surfing much of the modern Internet, but Netscape's troubles show it probably died a justified death.
SCREENSHOTS: IE6 vs. Netscape in 2011
As you'll recall, Microsoft destroyed the popular Netscape by bundling early versions of Internet Explorer with Windows, leading to antitrust investigations and creating a monopoly that would not be challenged until Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome arrived to start sucking away market share.
A key inflection point in the history of Web browsers occurred one decade ago, in August 2001, when Microsoft released IE6 not long after Netscape came out with its sixth-generation browser.
Unbelievably, IE6 is still in wide use today, by more than one out of 10 people browsing the Web, according to usage tracker Net Applications. IE6's enduring nature is due to businesses using applications that run only on IE6, and people who never updated Windows XP, either out of laziness or because they are using pirated copies of the operating system.