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Netscape co-founder relives the Internet revolution


Netscape's Jim Clark on...

...cofounder Mark Andreessen
[415k WAV] or [2.4Mb QuickTime]

...AOL vs. Microsoft
[350k WAV] or [2Mb QuickTime]

June 18, 1999
Web posted at: 11:23 a.m. EDT (1523 GMT)

By Jamie Allen
CNN Interactive Senior Writer

(CNN) -- A not-so-long time ago, in cyberspace, there was no easy way to navigate the Internet. "Browsers" were people who walked around stores but didn't buy anything. And the empire that is Microsoft was busy printing money.

Then along came Netscape Communications, the Silicon Valley start-up founded by Internet guru Jim Clark and programming genius Marc Andreessen. Cyberspace has never been the same.

Clark, Andreessen and a group of programmers created and sold the first widely marketed and user-friendly Internet browser, mapping out the World Wide Web, beating Microsoft to the punch, and making themselves millionaires in the process.

Of course, Clark was already pretty well off. He had previously founded two billion-dollar companies, the latter of them Silicon Graphics. It introduced him to the fertile computer culture in California and the potential it offered the visionary businessman.

Netscape became billion-dollar company No. 3 for Clark, making him one of most successful businessmen in the world.

Now, Clark -- with writer Owen Edwards -- is telling the Netscape tale in "Netscape Time: The Making of a Billion-Dollar Start-Up That Took On Microsoft" (St. Martin's Press). The book is a behind-the-scenes look at Netscape -- from the lightbulb-over-the-head phase, through the tense all-nighter development phase, to initial public offering on Nasdaq and ultimate success.

'The turmoil a company goes through'

"Netscape Time" takes readers from Clark and Andreessen's first meeting at Cafe Verona in Palo Alto (Andreessen was 23 at the time) to Andreessen's proposal that they create a Web browser better than Mosaic, the early browser he created while at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputer Application. It also documents the battles between Netscape and the all-powerful Microsoft.

"I wanted to reader to see the turmoil a company goes through in a starting phase," says Clark. "Particularly one like Netscape, which started a revolution, or at least was part of starting a revolution."

That revolution became the explosion of Internet popularity that continues today. With easy access to Web sites, users and businesses are flocking to the 'net in mounting numbers. Of course, Microsoft has joined the fun with Internet Explorer.

'Ruthless' Bill Gates

Clark devotes a fair amount of time to Microsoft leader Bill Gates, calling him "utterly ruthless." And that's good, Clark says.

"First of all, business is competitive and I don't think you'll find anyone who wishes their competitors well," says Clark. "The ultimate objective of business is to prevail and people who are too nice in doing business tend not to win, so I don't ascribe that quality to Bill Gates."

When it's pointed out that he's successful, and asked if it's because he, too, is ruthless, Clark turns modest.

"I don't know if 'ruthless' characterizes me," he says. "I'm definitely very competitive. I've never had the opportunity to be ruthless. In order to be ruthless you have to have some kind of power, and in most cases I've been going up against Microsoft, so I never had that power."

'A little bit of motivation'

Perhaps most interesting is the book's subtext about America still being a land of opportunity. Clark says he never dared dream he'd be such a success.

"We didn't have a lot going for us, growing up in this little flat town called Plainview (Texas) and so I never really aspired to much," says Clark. "I think when I got in the Navy and realized how bad life could be as an enlisted man I developed a little bit of motivation."

That little bit of motivation has carried him a long way. Clark remembers that when Netscape was founded, most people in Silicon Valley were waiting for someone else to take the first step.

"I'd say there was a fair amount of skepticism at the time about whether the Internet held any promise," says Clark. "And of course I felt that it did."

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