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It was magical at one point

There was a discussion on Reddit where a bunch of folks went nostalgic-extreme when someone posted the image of the Netscape loading-site image. There were several incarnations of the animation, but this is the one most people remember:

netscape_throbber

Just in case you have absolutely no clue what the above represents, here's a very quick stroll down memory lane concerning Internet browsers:

In the late 1990s the #1 most-used browser was Netscape Navigator. The above image, known as a "throbber", was at the top right of the web browser and animated whenever a web site was loading. It was called as such because the original Netscape "N" animation did in fact throb:

Throbbing N

You saw the throbber a lot because you were using dial-up.

When Microsoft's Internet Explorer hit the scene version 3, it completely stomped Netscape. Stomped so hard it literally obliterated them off the face of the Internet - and that's the way it was up until Firefox in late 2004, which is in fact another Netscape. More on that in a moment.

Throbber images these days are now rings, seen within tabs. This actually makes sense in a multi-tab setup because you want to know which tab is loading something, if anything. Firefox has a dotted ring, IE has a solid ring and Chrome's is a "chasing" ring.

The reason the Netscape throbber was so cool was because whenever you went anywhere on the Internet, you'd see a starry night sky with shooting stars. It gave you a sense that you were doing something special, even if whatever you were doing was mundane at best.

I'm pretty sure the Netscape developers knew that since everyone that used the browser was going to wait whenever loading a web site, they might as well use a loading image that looks nice. No other browser since Netscape has had a loading image that looks as good.

I find people who pine for Netscape to be a bit on the foolish side, because Firefox essentially is Netscape. The Gecko layout engine used in Firefox now did originally come from the Netscape devs. What people really want is how Netscape looked. There are themes to make Firefox look like Netscape on Windows 3.1 or Netscape Communicator. There's also the Netscape 8 theme and more, so if you want Netscape, you can get it.

Even though using Netscape back in the day was kinda magical in a way, in reality the browser sucked. Believe me, people dumped Netscape for IE for a very good reason - it didn't crash nearly as much. NS was a crash-happy beast and always was. It was common to have to restart the browser over and over again every time it ran into even a tiny piece of JavaScript it couldn't "understand" well. IE on the other hand was extremely forgiving and was a godsend compared to NS.

I distinctly remember the first time I used IE 3.0 and noticed that things like HTML forms actually worked correctly, and thought, "Nice!" Yes there was a point where IE was the best choice as a browser - which may be revitalized with IE9 in 2011, but we'll see.

What Netscape 3 and 4 does for those that used Internet in those years is bring up memories when going online was way, way different. Strangely however (but maybe not?), Internet is reverting back to the way it was in the late 90s. Yes, I'm talking about Web 1.0. People are fast discovering that independent communities are the best kind. Blogs and forums have proven that easily. People are absolutely sick of social networking, because seeing the Internet as one huge community just doesn't work no matter what anyone says. The Internet is best experienced using separated independent destinations because it's far easier to take in compared to one big thing where you're just a drop in the ocean.

Maybe the magic is coming back. Who knows.

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