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(slightly skeptical) Educational society promoting "Back to basics" movement against IT overcomplexity and  bastardization of classic Unix

Netscape 5 Saga

The importance of Netscape5 development is partially political -- it was one of the central selling point for open source in Eric Raymond argumentation. From the other point if Netscape might largely disappear from Windows desktops if IE implement non-compatible protocols that everybody will use or implement partially compatible protocols much better. 

ZDNet News The rise and fall of Netscape

Founded in 1994 by Web-browser innovator Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark, Netscape Communications Corp. was built on the Silicon Valley recipe of outstanding technological innovation mixed with the leadership of a charismatic CEO -- in this case, Jim Barksdale -- and the undying energy of a brilliant and youthful staff who truly believed they were shaping the future.

But by 1998, the company had faltered. The Prometheus that brought the fire of the Web to the people was bleeding red ink, mired in a battle with Microsoft over browsers -- the details of which are at the core of the ongoing federal antitrust suit against the Redmond giant. (Microsoft is a partner in MSNBC.)

Enter AOL
That's when America Online (NYSE: AOL) stepped in. In what was perhaps the most significant high-tech merger that year, the Dulles, Va.-based online service shelled out more than $10 billion for Netscape in a three-way deal with Sun Microsystems -- Sun effectively took over the business software divisions of Netscape.

The Valley breathed a collective sigh of relief: Surely AOL would switch its then 15 million users to Netscape Navigator as the browser of choice and turn the tables on Microsoft. Netscape would once again walk among the gods.

But it wasn't to be. AOL's now-nearly 21 million subscribers still use Microsoft's Internet Explorer to surf the Web, and Netscape's "browser share" has continued to plummet. The much-heralded version 5.0 of Netscape's browser -- known in the industry as "Mozilla" -- has been the victim of repeated delays and has yet to reach even "beta" status. And AOL has turned what was perhaps the most valuable asset of the deal -- the Netscape brand name -- into a catch-all brand used for the Netcenter portal aimed at the workplace as well as its free Internet service in Europe.

MSNBC conducted interviews with numerous former Netscape employees over a series of months, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Their story -- the story of clashes of corporate cultures and visions -- is both a parable for a maturing Internet industry and the possible foreshadowing of what AOL watchers might expect as the mega-merger with media giant Time Warner takes shape.

Despite numerous requests to AOL and its Netscape subsidiary to discuss this story with relevant executives, none were made available. An AOL spokesperson merely e-mailed a copy of a month-old press release available on its Web site.

Changing faces at Netscape
The most noticeable change at Netscape's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters is the people. Most of the folks originally associated with Netscape are gone. Former CEO James Barksdale left to found his own venture capital firm, taking with him former Chief Financial Officer Peter Currie. Co-founder Marc Andreessen stayed on with AOL as chief technology officer before departing last fall to start his own company, Loudcloud. Mike Homer, who ran the Netcenter portal, went on a sabbatical from which he never returned.

Like dandelion spores in the wind, Netscape alumni have floated around Silicon Valley and sprouted new companies wherever they've landed.

Tellme Networks was founded by former Netscape Vice President of Technology Mike McCue and former Product Manager Angus Davis. They brought with them John Giannandrea, who as chief technologist and principal engineer of the browser group was involved with every Navigator release from the first beta of 1.0 in 1994 through 4.5 in October 1998.

Ramanathan Guha, one of Netscape's most senior engineers, walked away from a reported $4 million salary at AOL to join -- and was soon joined by Lou Montulli and Aleksander Totic, two of Netscape's six founding engineers.

Other Netscape alumni helped start Responsys; some are at and AuctionWatch. Crowdburst's Spencer Murray was lead engineer for the Unix version of the browser. Spark PR is nearly entirely staffed by former Netscape PR people and represents a number of startups from Netscape alums. There are many others -- all havens for Netscape refugees.

Why did they all leave?

One of the main reasons for the exodus came down to simple economics. Many of the top people at Netscape already had their stock options vested even before AOL came along. But after they were bought, the value of those options shot up.

"When AOL's stock went up, the stock of most of the creative people was worth a ... fortune," said Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie, who co-authored "Competing on Internet Time" with Cusumano.

And those who hadn't already gotten rich looked around the Valley and saw startups as the gold-paved road to wealth. As one Netscape alum said: "The person who used to sit next to me left just a few months before I did and was already a millionaire."

But there were other reasons, too.

Netscape employees always saw themselves as the underdog. They were an aggressive band of revolutionaries. They were small. They were nimble. And they were changing the world.

"When we started this company, we were out to change the world. And we did that," Jamie Zawinski -- the 20th person hired at Netscape (when it was still called Mosaic) and one of the biggest evangelizers for, the open-source project for Netscape's still-unreleased advanced Web browser -- wrote the day before he resigned from AOL last spring. "Without us, the change probably would have happened anyway, maybe six months or a year later, and who-knows-what would have played out differently. But we were the ones who actually did it. When you see URLs on grocery bags, on billboards, on the sides of trucks, at the end of movie credits just after the studio logos -- that was us, we did that. We put the Internet in the hands of normal people. We kick-started a new communications medium. We changed the world."

They had a vision and they were believers. In the glory days of Netscape, Barksdale and Andreessen were famous for their "all-hands" meetings where they would have the room of employees shouting like they were in a tent revival.

"You came out of one of Barksdale's all-hands meetings and you were like, 'I believe,' " said an ex-employee. "You really believed in the vision that he laid out..."

[August 20, 1999] - Mozilla Success or Failure Web Review has a couple of articles about Mozilla. This one looks at the interesting bits of new technology produced by Mozilla. "From the programmer's perspective, Mozilla has clearly been wildly successful. In addition to the millions of lines of freely available source code, Mozilla has contributed a number of useful tools and technologies to the development community."

And Mozilla: success or failure? looks at whether Mozilla has been worthwhile or not. "There are certainly many more contributors outside of Netscape working on Mozilla today than there were in the first six months of the project. This phenomenon was largely due to the state of the Mozilla code at the time, and the lack of a clear architectural direction."

**** Resignation and postmortem of Jamie Zawinski <> 



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