Culture

Net vets go down in flames

Netscape Communications never ceases to amaze its admirers.

Netscape Communications never ceases to amaze its admirers. The software firm has demonstrated that it can help us negotiate the polluted tangle of the Web; before that it taught us how to regulate the vast quantity of information we face on a daily basis. But only now, from deep within the bowels of Mozilla, has a Netscape employee let on what the company really can do.

Netscape--a venerable, if beleaguered, veteran of the Web--made news recently after trustbuster target Microsoft subpoenaed the contents of a spicy internal mailing list dubbed "Really Bad Attitude." Hosted by longtime Netscape engineer (employee No. 20) and online commentator Jamie Zawinski, the list was reserved for the nastiest opinions employees had for their employer, the competition, and more pressing subjects such as the cafeteria food.

All of this has been duly reported. But what concerns us now is the amount of venom Netscape's erstwhile mailing list host maintains not just for yours truly (against whose very existence he makes the most scurrilous, if not libelous, attacks), but against the same hand that feeds him Microsoft subpoenas!

But enough of these generalities. Here's the view from the inside the engineering department.

On personal email, Netscape, and its adversaries:

  • "If you work for a company like Netscape, with powerful enemies and a powerful 'kick me' sign on its back, saving anything at all, even your personal mail, could be ill-advised."

    On corporate growth at Netscape:

  • "As the company grew, it began to attract a different...caliber of people; for lack of a better term, let's call them 'losers.' These pusillanimous latecomers entered our playground and raised all manner of ruckus."

    On the evolution of Netscape:

  • "Netscape has gone from 'hot young world-changing start-up' to Apple levels of unadulterated uselessness in less than four years, and with less than 3,000 employees. But I guess Netscape has always done everything faster and bigger, including burning out. It's too bad it had to end with a whimper instead of a bang."

    On nostalgia:

  • "Netscape used to be something wonderful. The thing that hurts about this is that I was here when Netscape was just a bunch of creative people working together to make something great. Now it's a faceless corporation like all other faceless corporations, terrified that it might accidentally offend someone. But yes, all big corporations are like that: It's just that I was here to watch this one fall."

    M. Zawinski did not respond to an interview request; however, Netscape flak Chris Holten had this to say on the subject of the moonlighting muckraker: "Jamie is notorious in the software community for expressing his extreme opinions on all sorts of topics, in a way that most people would consider unconventional.

    "The employees at Netscape certainly don't take Jamie's rants personally," she added. "We all know he is a brilliant engineer and is entitled to his opinions, and believe me, he has many."

    Zawinski may consider his coworkers to be pusillanimous bunch, but if they're not taking his comments personally, I would tend to call them magnanimous instead. I, for one, remain deeply wounded. "Clueless newbie?" Que je suis blessé!

    Perhaps all of us should take a lesson from Zawinski's frankness and flame our own companies until they're a nice golden brown. One prominent Netizen who could take a few pointers from the hotheaded Jamie is Jon Katz, formerly of HotWired, who along with the Dreamjobs section was squeezed out in the latest reorg. Katz, in all his years working on the Net, clearly hasn't mastered the art of the flame, and parted with the most gentlemanly of farewells .

    But like Zawinski, Katz is more than a touch nostalgic about the Web that was and the one that was supposed to be. "It's a real end of an era here," he told a colleague of mine.

    Katz said he thought the site was smart to be following its biz-geek money path, leaving cocktails, echinacea, and his column in the lurch. "That's what they needed to do to survive," he added.

    Rumor has it that Katz will take up residence with fellow Netly lefties at the Freedom Forum. Other whispers on the subject include reports of numerous overtures to buy HotWired, all rebuffed, as well as a report that the many tens of millions reaped from the sale of Wired magazine are depleted, paid out to investors.

    A few voices closer to the front than the freelancing Katz are suggesting that the online company is having a little problem with the vision thing. In fact, according to one internal theory, by the time advertisers groked HotWired, it had dumped the properties that made it appealing. So now the site is left as an umbrella for recycling other Wired content thought to be most attractive to ad buyers, most notably the news.

    The news from the merger of network nabobs Bay Networks and Northern Telecom is that democracy is not exactly alive and well in the networking industry. It seems that select Bay customers were pointed to a secure Web site so they could vote for one of four logo variations on "Nortel Networks"--the proposed new name for Bay--for two days last week by something called the "Nortel-Bay brand recognition team."

    The referendum results? The combined company announced that its data division would be called--you guessed it--Bay Networks. Beautiful.

    Cough up a comment and a rumor, but save the attitude for the boss.