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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.
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.)
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 Epinions.com -- 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 Accept.com 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 Mozilla.org, 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] webreview.com - 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 <email@example.com>
My biggest fear, and part of the reason I stuck it out as long as I have, is that people will look at the failures of mozilla.org as emblematic of open source in general. Let me assure you that whatever problems the Mozilla project is having are not because open source doesn't work. Open source does work, but it is most definitely not a panacea. If there's a cautionary tale here, it is that you can't take a dying project, sprinkle it with the magic pixie dust of ``open source,'' and have everything magically work out. Software is hard. The issues aren't that simple.
... ... ... ...
I can come up with a litany of excuses and explanations for why we are so late (heaven knows I've been making these excuses to the media for half the lifetime of the project.) Some of them are:
We never got there. We never distributed the
source code to a working web browser, more importantly, to the
web browser that people were actually using. We didn't release
the source code to the most-
What we released was a large pile of interesting code, but it didn't much resemble something you could actually use.
This isn't even so much an excuse as a stupid, terrible mistake, considering we should have learned our lessons about doing parallel development like this in the past, with the abortive ``Javagator'' project.
The worst part about all this is, for the last year, I've spent much of my time striving to convince people that mozilla.org is not netscape.com. I've told people again and again that the mozilla.org organization does not serve only the desires of the Netscape client engineering group, but rather, serves the desires of all contributors to the Mozilla project, no matter who they are. And that's certainly true. But the fact is, there has been very little contribution from people who don't work for Netscape, making the distinction somewhat academic.
Now, to be fair, in this first year, we did do some very good things:
But despite all this, in the last year, we did not
accomplish the goals that I wanted to accomplish. We did not take the
Mozilla project and turn it into a network-
Perhaps my goals were unreasonable; perhaps it should have been obvious to me when we set out on this project that it would take much longer than a year to reach these goals, if we ever did. But, it wasn't obvious to me then, or now. These are the goals I was aiming for, and they have not yet been met.
And so I'm giving up.
The Mozilla project has become too depressing, and too painful, for me to continue working on. I wanted Mozilla to become something that it has not, and I am tired of fighting and waiting to make it so. I have felt very ineffectual, and that's just not a good feeling.
For those of you who choose to continue, I wish you all the best of luck.
I must say, though, that it feels good to be resigning from AOL instead of resigning from Netscape. It doesn't really feel like quitting at all. I was the 20th person hired at Mosaic Communications Corporation (All Praise the Company), and of those twenty, only five remain. The company I helped build has been gone for quite some time. We, Netscape, did some extraordinary things. But we could have done so much more. I feel like we had a shot at greatness, and missed.
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