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Another exec moves away from Netscape

America Online's Netscape unit takes another personnel hit with the departure of a key executive from the client product development group.

America Online's Netscape unit took another personnel hit with the departure of a key executive from the client product development group.

Bob Lisbonne, a four-year veteran of Netscape and senior vice president of client products, has left that division, CNET News.com learned. Lisbonne may consider staying at America Online in another capacity, but he is looking at opportunities outside the company, a source close to him said.

AOL confirmed that Lisbonne is leaving his current position and said that Jim Hamerly, formerly vice president of client development, will succeed him. Hamerly joined Netscape in 1997 with its acquisition of DigitalStyle.

Lisbonne's move and potential departure is one of a growing string of defections from AOL by key Netscape figures. Netscape cofounder and browser pioneer Marc Andreessen recently stepped down as AOL's chief technology officer, remaining at AOL in a scaled back capacity. Barry Ariko relinquished his post representing Netscape in the Sun-Netscape alliance, saying he may stay on at AOL. And senior vice president Lori Mirek left the company earlier this summer.

A previous exodus followed AOL's acquisition of Netscape in March.

Netscape denied that the recent departures signal a period of turmoil or a shake-up in the division.

"What we're witnessing is a lot of very, very talented people who have been doing what they've been doing for quite some time now looking for change in their careers," said AOL spokeswoman Maggie Young. "Many of them are looking internally first because they have great respect for AOL."

Lisbonne joined Netscape with its acquisition of Collabra in the fall of 1995. He started out in charge of client product marketing, then took charge of client product development in fall of 1997.

Lisbonne oversaw the development of the Netscape Communicator browser during one of its most crucial periods, as Microsoft brought its marketing muscle to bear on the market-leading start-up and reduced Netscape's share of the market from around 80 percent to a minority share today.

Lisbonne's mark
Netscape insiders credit Lisbonne with spearheading in whole or in part some of the company's boldest moves to save Communicator in the market, including the decision to offer it free of charge and publish the underlying source code, as well as the creation of the open-source development organization Mozilla.org, which shepherds the development of Communicator today.

Lisbonne also is credited with scuttling projects that many saw as peripheral to the vital task of updating Communicator's antiquated technology. These projects included Netscape's development work on Sun Microsystems' Java cross-platform programming language and more than half a dozen other client projects, including Netcaster, Netscape Conference, streaming media, and a retail-packaged version of Communicator that was sold in stores along with dial-up kits.

Lisbonne also was in charge when Netscape decided to halt its development of Communicator 4.5 in favor of concentrating on the more standards-compliant version 5.0 technology, code-named "Gecko."

While some former Netscape engineers faulted Lisbonne for not honing the company's focus on Gecko soon enough, others praised him for his work in the client division under difficult circumstances.

"It was during his tenure that Netscape did some of the most bold things, like open source," said Ramanathan Guha, chief technology officer of Epinions.com and former principal engineer at Netscape. "But sometimes life sucks. And this was one of those times."