4 years ago today, 15 July 2003, AOL Time Warner disbanded Netscape Communications Corporation – the company that sparked the Dot Com Internet boom in the mid-90’s with its 1995 IPO. Also 4 years ago today, The Mozilla Foundation was established. mozillaZine reported at the time:

“It has been learned through public and private sources that AOL has cut or will cut the remaining team working on Mozilla in a mass firing and are dismantling what was left of Netscape (they’ve even pulled the logos off the buildings). Some will remain working on Mozilla during the transition, and will move to other jobs within AOL.

The news isn’t all doom and gloom, folks. I’ve been informed that the number of volunteer Mozilla hackers started eclipsing the number of Netscape hackers last month, and that a number of folks have already been snatched up by other organizations. “

4 years later? In 2006 Netscape was re-born as a digg clone and AOL struggles to make the news at all these days. But the Mozilla Foundation continues to grow, with the Firefox browser inching upwards every month in the browser market share. History has shown it was the right move to open source the Mozilla browser.

I was impressed with this post by Anil Dash 4 years ago, which in hindsight is remarkably prescient:

“Now that Netscape’s more or less officially dead, it occurs to me that it might be worthwhile for Google to bankroll the Mozilla Foundation, either by donating a substantial sum or by hiring several of the browser engineers. Google’s shown a penchant not just for being “not evil” but for supporting products and companies (ahem) that contribute to the web even if it’s not directly in the area of search.

Since Google’s all but announced that they’re no longer “just search”, I’d probably amend my qualms about lack of focus and say that if Google wants to own the entire area of information innovation, they need to be significant contributors to the evolution of Mozilla.”

Remember, Anil wrote that 4 years ago – but it is almost precisely what has panned out. Google has hired a number of Mozilla engineers over the past few years and now dominates the area of Web innovation, at least among the big companies. We’ve commented a few times about the cozy relationship between Google and Mozilla, and it’s interesting to look back 4 years and consider how that all started.

How poetic is this: the death of a Web 1.0 poster child (Netscape), ironically killed by a bloated bigco, led to the birth of a Web 2.0 standards bearer (Mozilla/Firefox) and the amorous attentions of the main Internet bigco today – Google. Shakespeare couldn’t have scripted it better. Life is all about cycles though, so whether the Google/Mozilla romance turns out to be comedy or tragedy in 4 more years time — that is the question.