After the purchase of Yahoo by the telecommunications giant Verizon, another pioneer of the Internet was on the brink. Verizon wanted to merge Yahoo and AOL, which was acquired in 2015, to establish a new competitor to Facebook and Google. The forced pairing of the failed giants did not work.
With the sound of the once big names of the beginning of the Internet age, memories of other, once great brands that shaped the early days of the era are inevitably awakened. For example, what became of brands like Compuserve, Altavista, Netscape, Angelfire, Realplayer, Winamp or the German Google alternative Fireball? We found out!
In 1995 Altavista went online as a demo project of the Digital Equipment Corporation. In principle, Altavista is the forerunner of Google. The full-text search engine is one of the world’s best known and most used search engines until the meteoric rise of today’s Alphabet subsidiary. With the sale to Compaq in 1998, the beginning of the end for Altavista began. Less than a year later, Compaq sold the search engine to CMGI (at a loss of $ 1 billion). The next owner is the advertising company Overture Series, which Altavista acquired in 2003 for $ 140 million. In the same year, Yahoo buys the web veteran – 2013 is finally over.
Website hoster Angelfire was one of the most popular of its kind in the 1990s. Founded in 1996, the company was acquired in 1998 by Lycos Europe – which together with AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft formed the “Big Four” of the World Wide Web at the time. For its part, Lycos was “passed around” several times and now belongs to the Indian media group Ybrant Digital. However, Angelfire did not get under the wheel: You are still hosted there today.
The company was first founded in 1985 under the name “Quantum Computer Services” and began trading under the name America Online (AOL) in 1988. During the Internet boom, AOL established itself as the world’s largest Internet provider with almost 30 million customers until the early 2000s. The acquisitions of Compuserve (1997), Netscape (1998) and Mirabilis (developer of ICQ, 1998) also contributed to this.
With the takeover by Time Warner (2000), however, AOL’s star begins to drop dramatically: by 2009, there were “only” a little more than five million users. Then Time Warner is separated and the company enters a rehabilitation phase. With the acquisition of various tech websites (including TechCrunch, Huffinfton Post and Engadget), AOL wants to position itself as a digital media company. In mid-2015, Verizon eventually bought the company. The telecommunications giant wanted to merge America Online with the acquired Yahoo (and some other companies) under the “Oath” brand. Verizon has now officially abandoned this plan.
When you still had to dial into the Internet via a modem, AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy formed a powerful trio of dial-up providers. AOL can prevail shortly before the millennium and buys Compuserve, but lets the brand live on – or rather vegetate. The classic Compuserve service will only be discontinued in 2009. That is why Compuserve is not dead. At least not quite yet.
Long before Google, the search engine Fireball became the most popular web search engine in Germany in the late 1990s. It was developed in 1996 by the Faculty of Computer Science at the Technical University of Berlin – only German-language websites are indexed. In order to also be able to display international search results, a cooperation with Altavista is entered into. In 1999 Lycos Europe secured the search engine for around 120 million euros. Since March 2009, Fireball has been owned by the Swiss company Ambrosia AG, which has revived the search engine – specializing in German web offers and with the promise of anonymization.
Alongside Angelfire, Geocities is one of the most popular web hosts of the early days of the Internet and something of a forerunner of WordPress. The company, founded in 1994, is sold to Yahoo in the course of the dotcom boom in 1999, at which time the price was more than $ 3.5 billion. The company has been operating under the name Yahoo Geocities for ten years – in 2009 the lights finally go out.
What would the Internet of the 1990s be without Hotmail? One of the first free webmail services was launched in 1995 by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith – with American Independence Day being deliberately chosen for commercial launch in 1996 to highlight the service’s independence from the major Internet service providers to which E -Mail accounts were still connected up to this point. The name is not chosen because electronic mail was the “hottest shit” at the time, but rather to include the abbreviation HTML in the nomenclature.
After Hotmail developed to a resounding success and won over eight million users by the end of 1997, the webmail service was finally bought by Microsoft in December 1997 for about $ 350 million and integrated into the MSN service portfolio. MSN Hotmail was the world’s largest webmail service in 1999 with over 30 million active users.
Serious security problems that become public due to several hacker attacks finally force the Redmond giant to carry out extensive renovation work – in the meantime, the renaming to Windows Live Mail is also up for debate, which is ultimately not implemented in order not to confuse the users. Hotmail continued to grow in the following years and received several new paintings before the approximately 400 million accounts were integrated into Outlook.com in 2013. The Hotmail tradition lives on in Outlook and tries to assert itself against the overwhelming majority of Gmail – especially with privacy features (for example, the absence of scanning email conte
nt) and extensive integration with Office and other Microsoft products.
With ICQ, an Israeli start-up called Mirabilis created the first free instant messaging service in late 1996. The software is spreading rapidly. In mid-1998, AOL bought Mirabilis for more than $ 400 million. In April 2010, ICQ changed hands again and transferred from AOL to the Russian investment company Mail.ru Group for just under $ 190 million. ICQ has been available as a mobile app since 2010, but is struggling to survive by spreading Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and Co.
The file sharing platform Napster started a real MP3 boom in 1999 and brought the music industry against itself like no other company. Therefore, after numerous lawsuits (including those from Metallica and Dr. Dre) against the company, Napster ended in its original form in 2001. Previously, the German Bertelsmann Group tried to convert the company into a legal platform with an investment, but the plan failed, Napster had to go into bankruptcy. In 2002, Roxio bought the remnants before the retail giant Best Buy struck in 2008. At the end of 2011, the competitor Rhapsody finally took over the brand name and has since used it for its own music payment platform in the style of Spotify and Deezer.
In the early days of the Internet, Netscape Navigator was THE window to the World Wide Web – long before Microsoft used Windows 95 to make Internet Explorer its number one browser. AOL acquired Netscape Communications in 1998 for € 4.2 billion. Until 2007, the Navigator will be kept alive (largely artificial) – then AOL finally has a look and lets the cult browser rest in peace.
The Real Player is a web icon. After all, in 1995 he was one of the first free media players to compete with Microsoft’s then dominant Windows Media Player. However, the Real Player is also characterized by souvenirs such as ad and spyware, which is why the colleagues from PCWorld voted it the “second worst technical product of all time” in 2006. Nevertheless, the software developed by Real Networks has actually survived to this day, and the source code will be published in 2002. The Real Player is now available for download in a revised, contemporary form.
With the release of the free music and video player Winamp, the newly founded company Nullsoft succeeded in 1997. So big that AOL bought it in 1999 for around $ 80 million. AOL is obviously overwhelmed with the further development of Winamp – new versions flop, the users migrate to competing products.
In November 2013, AOL announced that Winamp should be discontinued. However, the deadline mentioned passes without anything happening. In January 2014, the acquisition by the Belgian company Radionomy finally became known. In October 2018, the company released Winamp in beta version 5.8.
Such a nostalgia flash is something nice. That is why we immediately dug up the websites of the early Internet top brands and expanded them with some still active tech giants. After all, a website is – still – the digital business card of every company. It is all the more interesting (and sometimes even more amusing) to see what the World Wide Web figureheads of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube and Co. looked like in their early stages:
Pre-Google era: Altavista was the address for global searches.
This is what User Experience looked like in 1996 at the web host Angelfire.
The German Google alternative – Fireball.
At Geocities, people loved colors. Always have.
The first instant messenger: ICQ.
Simple, successful and illegal: the Napster portal in 1999.
At this sight, many tears of emotion should shed: The old Netscape homepage.
The Winamp website for the weddings of the player in 1998.
In 1996 the AOL website promoted ‘personal chat’ as a groundbreaking future feature.
No comparison to today: Twitter in an early youthful guise.
When Yahoo was still a giant, this website was part of the standard repertoire for many Internet users.
A lot has happened on the YouTube page since 2005.
When Amazon was still an online bookstore, the website also limited itself to the essentials.
Thanks to “The Social Network” everyone should know the Facebook history. This was the early web presence of the most successful social network.
Google has made only marginal changes to its website since 1998.
The Apple homepage in mid-1997.
By the way, COMPUTERWOCHE can also look back on a turbulent history of the website: Since the first homepage was launched in 1995, a lot has happened – both in terms of content and design. But see for yourself:
- COMPUTER WEEK online through the ages
The COMPUTERWOCHE has been online since 1995. Over the past few years, the content orientation has always been based on the inherently volatile ITC market and the design of the homepage has also undergone a major change. Today COMPUTERWOCHE online stands for an extensive, multimedia and modern web offer. Up to the current version, our website has had a long journey: Accompany us through more than two decades of web design …
At this point, thanks to the “Wayback Machine”, without whose extensive database this “journey through time” would not be possible.
The COMPUTERWOCHE launched its website in 1995. Initially, the editorial team concentrated primarily on the “essentials”, namely the content and understood the web offer as a supplement to the printed booklet. The main focus was on online job advertisements and news. This simple screenshot from 1996 shows how simple web design was in the mid-1990s.
What followed was the “COMPUTERWOCHE INFONET” in yellow, black and red, which put a little more emphasis on daily reporting. The first interactive applications in the form of surveys (“Question of the Week”) have already found their way.
- Early 2001
The “COMPUTERWOCHE INFONET” finally became “COMPUTERWOCHE online”, with even more – even longer – content in different color categories.
- Late 2001
No more colorful colors, back to more “seriousness” – the menus became clearer, the structure of the page was already approaching that of a modern news portal.
Whether “Klickparade”, the “EM-sweeps
takes”, the reference to the colleagues of “TecChannel” or special publications like “Young Professional” – there was always more to discover. The news ticker was now also available in an XML-compatible export format in order to integrate it into RSS readers and to be able to receive content outside of the website.
The menu moved to the left column, the logo was adjusted a little, the premium area was introduced.
Being able to promote individual stories in a more prominent and larger way became more and more an approach. With “COMPUTERWOCHE-TV” we started our own web video channel.
There were special formats and sudoku at the weekend – unfortunately, some pictures specially made for the homepage were lost over the years, which is why they are missing on this and some of the following screenshots …
The topic of search engine optimization (SEO) also played a major role from the middle of the past decade – seeing important terms right at the entry level is still at the top of the agenda at COMPUTERWOCHE. Here you can see it in the slightly changed main menu and the teaser areas of the great stories of the day.
Five years ago we said goodbye to vertical menu navigation and moved it completely to the horizontal on the page header. Since then, the big top stories have been sold even more prominently.
The area “Recommend CW editors” was also a loyal companion of the readers during this time.
The importance of social media increased significantly over time, which ultimately also became prominent on the homepage of COMPUTERWOCHE (see button bar above the three top stories).
In 2013 we completely redesigned the website and made the homepage even more dynamic. The big top stories now alternate with each other automatically.
The COMPUTERWOCHE website has been shining in a responsive guise since March 2016 – so it automatically adapts to the display size of the respective end device. The design of the homepage has also been modernized and now presents itself as “cleaner” than ever before.
So that was it, our little journey through time through more than 20 years of COMPUTERWOCHE online. Look forward to the coming years …
Do you want more retro? No problem! We have numerous articles in stock that will take you back to the good old days of modem, disk and browser war. How about our ‘Best Of’ failed storage media or the retro computer tops and flops? There is even more “good old days” in our bizarre collection from the COMPUTERWOCHE archive.
With material from IDG News Service.