Surfing the Web with Netscape 4

While looking into our old SPARC server targets for our new SPARC legacy offering, I  opened up a Simics demo checkpoint that we have had around for a long time (at least eight years). This demo is an UltraSPARC II running Solaris 9, and it shows how web browsers looked around 2001.  I used real-network to connect the machine to the Internet, and tried the default webbrowser – Netscape 4.78, built in June of 2001.

Netscape 4.78 about box

Since the Javascript implementation in the browser is pretty poor, and its CSS support terrible, the main Wind River home page would not basically not render in any useful form. Our blog page at does render – but maybe not in the expected way:

Netscape 4 and wind river

As a friend of mine commented on Facebook – is the problem that there are too many Jakobs there?

For all its shortcomings, we also have to admit just how revolutionary Netscape was. I still recall using version 1 to look at the few pages of the nascent world-wide-web when I was still a university undergraduate… And I am writing this blog using Firefox 6, which essentially is the latest in the line of development leading up from Netscape 4.

While it makes for some laughs to visit the past in this way, it can also be very useful.  If you have some old applications still living on an old machine like a Solaris 9 SPARC, what do you do?  Sometimes you can port the applications to more recent systems, but there are cases where it is just simpler, cheaper, and less risky to use a virtual machine to keep it running.  For example, if the source code is lost, the application is just a binary, the application depends on some device driver (which we can run on the virtual platform, since we run the complete OS stack), or even when there is source it has annoying word-length and endianness problems.

Note that if we would have liked to see a web site like it was back in 2002, we could have added a server to the virtual network to serve the pages like they looked back then. Preferably, running a contemporary web server on a contemporary OS to make it more "authentic" .


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