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Yo, Marc. Stare, don't run.

As a wee lad at Attrition Valley High, I used to regularly engage my fellow geeks in ferocious staring matches.

As a wee lad at Attrition Valley High, I used to regularly engage my fellow geeks in ferocious staring matches. Typically, the stakes were low: a modest collection of junk food and battered SIMM chips, but in our tiny universe, no greater victory could be had than the title of Staremeister. Now, when I find Web sites with blinking text, one of Netscape's early contributions to the HTML standard, I think of those bittersweet days with the losses and the victories.

Speaking of staring contests, did Marc Andreessen blink before the Microsoft behemoth yesterday? Netscape's chief wizard was supposed to debate Brad Chase, a Redmondian marketing honcho, during the opening address to the Seybold trade show in San Francisco.

But nary a spark flew between the two. Chase and Andreessen never appeared on the stage together. Apparently Andreessen backed out of the debate at the last minute, leaving the venerable moderator, Jonathan Seybold, with nothing to moderate. "Marc would prefer to do it this way," Seybold told the audience, which then had to endure what amounted to uninspiring company infomercials from Andreessen and Chase.

What was the Marcster afraid of? It's no secret that Netscape and Microsoft are a latter-day France and England, but their enmity has principally played itself out in nasty emails, faxes to the Department of Justice, as well as parries and thrusts in the browser arena. The companies have so far avoided direct, public confrontation. No one wants gladiator warfare, but a little verbal horn-locking might clear up some bad blood between Redmond and Mountain View. Instead, Andreessen had the chance to stare down the Gorgon's head and ran away from it.

Bad blood is everywhere. Lately, Macromedia and Progressive Networks have been using their Web sites to skewer each other. Earlier this year the two plug-in developers turned fierce competitors when Macromedia added streaming audio capabilities to Shockwave. Now, Progressive is claiming that it's getting static from Macromedia, which is pushing Shockwave as a cheaper, more customizable alternative to RealAudio. "Hey, Macromedia: Stop stretching the truth," reads a statement on the Progressive Networks Web site accompanied by a mug shot of Pinocchio. Seems as if Progressive, the undisputed heavyweight of the Net audio market, has not taken kindly to Macromedia muscling in on its territory.

Microsoft is muscling in on a number of Web sites with a beta version of its Proxy Server, code-named Catapult. The latest beta of the server, which caches Web pages locally so ISPs and intranets can make Web surfing zippier for their users, can go into an infinite loop, bombarding Web sites with requests for pages. One Web site was hit with 40,000 requests for Web pages within the span of 12 hours. Eventually, the site declared Catapult server non grata and banned all Microsoft Proxy Servers from entry. I won't ban anyone from my Web site, not that CNET would let me do that anyway. Show your appreciation: download all of the rumors from your brain into my email box.