Web Master


Jai Singh Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jai Singh is the founding editor and editor in chief of CNET News.com.
Jai Singh
10 min read
CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 6, 1996, Marc Andreessen
Web Master
By Margie Wylie, Nick Wingfield, and Jai Singh
Staff Writers, CNET NEWS.COM

If you're looking for someone to blame the Web on, Marc Andreessen is your guy.

Wondering why software releases are now weeks rather than months apart? It's a phenomenon called Web Weeks and, yes, it's the chubby, baby-faced 24-year-old multimillionaire's fault. Add it to a long list of ways in which the Web has changed our lives, from Web addresses on billboards to talk of online

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addiction. Andreessen will tell you he was just in the right place at the right time when as a college student in Illinois he wrote Mosaic, one of the first graphical Web browsers. Talking to him, you get the feeling that he tripped and accidentally founded Netscape with Silicon Graphics veteran Jim Clark. Don't believe it.

Andreessen has, if only temporarily, conquered the Web. About 85 percent of all browsers in use are made by Netscape. That's gotten the attention of Microsoft, which now plans to build Web browsing into Windows, a move that could destroy Netscape in the consumer market. Andreessen's response? Go after the business market. Andreessen has been exhorting businesses to throw away Lotus Notes and other "closed" business information systems and move to the "open" Web. The intranet is born and the idea of "extranets" are incubating in Andreessen's mind. We'll see just how lucky he is.

NEWS.COM: Are you at all surprised by the kinds of business and cultural changes you have set off through development of Mosaic?
Andreessen: I laugh every time I open the morning newspaper and half the articles are about the Internet or something on the Internet. The San Francisco Examiner recently ran a big article on Stale, this parody of Slate. Here's an article in a newspaper about a Web site. It's like just a totally normal thing these days.

I've been waiting for three years now for the level of interest to crest and it hasn't. I get the feeling increasingly that we're at the very beginning of a very long-term ramp up. This is just the start. And so I think the changes over the next five or ten years are really going to be profound, and we're only starting to see some of them.

NEXT: Politics

Marc Andreessen

Age: 24

Net worth: $70 million

Claims to fame: Wrote Mosaic, the first commercially successful graphical Web browser
Founded Netscape

CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 6, 1996, Marc Andreessen

You say profound changes are still to come. What are a couple of things that pop into your head?
Politics. By 1998 or '99, most political discussion in the country will be on the Internet.

If you figure 40 or 50 percent of the population votes, out of that today maybe 30 percent of them are online. In another year, 80 percent of them will be online. And the resource for most of the information they use and most of the debate they engage in is going to be, I think, Internet-based. Along with that, the issues around the Internet, like regulation and cryptography and all the rest, are going to increasingly influence politics.

If that is the case, do you think that Silicon Valley takes on a bigger role in the shaping of legislative issues regarding the whole computing and Internet world?
I think that happens because the technology world is becoming more important to the rest of the world overall, which seems to be happening now with issues like crypto and the Communications Decency Act and a lot of issues around the Internet.

Does Netscape support a PAC, support certain candidates? Does it poll resources?
We belong to industry associations that have lobbying efforts under way. We also have a person in our legal department who is our public policy counsel who spends most of his time in Washington. Increasingly, there's actually the risk that a bill could get passed that would hold us liable for things like content. That's just insane, but the politicians don't know that half the time. Content providers are worried enough now about copyright infringement that they would like to hold software providers in some cases liable for enabling the copyright infringement. And then there are issues that directly affect our business, like [the inability to export] encryption. Netscape is losing $20 million to $40 million revenue this year because of this. The problem exists with or without us. So we have to get in the middle of issues like that.

What other issues do you think besides politics are on the horizon?
The arrival of the Internet and intranet is forcing a transition in how businesses treat technology. For the last 35 or 40 years, most computers were used to automate processes that already existed inside of businesses. But now computers are increasingly being used to create new processes that are centered around the computers themselves that the computers made possible. You can build an intranet now that seamlessly ties together your internal company and its culture and its employees and seamlessly extend that out to your partners and your suppliers and your customers. That means that the businesses that do (build intranets) have significant advantages over businesses that don't.

Are most companies switching over to the concept of the intranet, or are you enlarging the market?
A little of both. We tend to get a lot of business for things like information sharing or database access or collaboration. We're also getting a good share of the email business. So a lot of it is new customers, but a lot of it's business that would have gone to Notes two years ago. Our business is to sell this type of software to companies, and there's sort of a three-way race between Microsoft, Netscape, and Lotus.

You mentioned culture being an issue. Is that an obstacle you find with corporations already working with legacy applications who will have a difficult time of transitioning?
The specific area where there is sometimes some resistance is in people who have made a political commitment or they've bet their careers on some technology. Many of them decided on Exchange two years ago, and now they're finally getting to the point where they can roll it out, except it looks like now it's obsolete. So they've got a problem on their hands to work through that. The same thing for Notes. That's the major barrier.

How is Netscape as a company dealing with these two different market segments: the corporate intranet and the Internet?
The Internet is 80 percent or more of our business. So most of our product development, most of our features in Navigator, and all the rest of it are geared to the Internet. The crossover point for us that's really important is a company like FedEx that wants to take its order management system or its package tracking system and make that accessible to Internet users. There's a lot of money there. There's a lot of IS budgets that are allocated to do this stuff. The Internet's basis of revenue is not significant, so it's less important. On the Internet side it's tougher to justify that level of spending on investment because the business models are not there. The Internet content business so far has proven to be pretty tough. There's not a broad base of successful business enterprises yet. Increasingly, a large part of our business will be what we call extranets, which is companies linking up to other companies. They may or may not use the Internet as the transport. They may have a private IP network as the transport, but it shares many of the same characteristics as the Internet.

But in that scenario, Internet users don't get those kinds of applications or features because you're concentrating more on the business side of things. Do you see a scenario like that unfolding?
Well, they'll get what they pay for. Everybody else ultimately gets what they pay for.

NEXT: Network computers  

CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 6, 1996, Marc Andreessen
Network computers

Can you clarify Netscape's position on Network Computers?
We're going to have a way to take Navigator onto basically all non-PC devices. And that should be probably within the next few weeks. We'll talk in more detail about how that works. But the upshot is we're going to try to get Navigator running everywhere, and we're not going to do all that work ourselves. We've got some partnerships.

"Everywhere" meaning standard?
NCs, PDAs (personal digital assistants), video game boxes, interactive things like the different 32- and 64-bit video game platforms are really good for this.

There will be a Navigator-branded product on a PDA; it may not include all the functionality. There are very real hardware limitations on some of these devices, but Moore's Law is on our side, so over time you'll get more and more.

So you're bullish on...
Yeah, bullish on the concept of non-PC devices that connect to the Internet and are useful. And especially there's two things that are going to be big wins here. One is the things will be free because they can be subsidized by service providers. So the cost isn't going to be $500. The cost is going to be zero dollars.

But who is really committed to that?
All of the ISPs and online services have established a model from which they're willing to spend to get a customer. The question is whether it's $40 or $200 that a customer is worth. It's like cellular phones. One thing that's true about PCs is that they are hellaciously complex to run and support. Gartner Group said that PCs cost $8,000 to $15,000 a year to support. So if you have what I call the "zero admin client" where you just turn it on and it works, there is a segment of the market that's going to like that a lot.

Are information services managers going to be that keen about zero admin clients?
When we talk to CIOs about it, sort of the Fortune 100-level companies, if they had a box in their hands and it worked, they'd roll it out.

What's the future of Navigator?
More and more of the things that people do on the network can just happen inside Navigator. We're going to expand Navigator to be a desktop, and that will work with all these different platforms exactly in the same way. It will take over the screen if you want. You could even replace the Windows start-up screen. Navigator will be able to take over the whole desktop. In fact, you'll be able to boot directly into it.

As far as size and complexity goes, more and more of it's going to be downloaded on the fly. Navigator is turning more and more into a subscription-based service. You're going to subscribe to Navigator and your subscription may actually be subsidized by content providers or advertisers or whatever. But you'll subscribe to the Navigator and in the middle of the night, a new module will get downloaded and then you'll get asked the next morning, "Would you like to install this?" If you click yes, boom, it will be right there. If you click no, it will be erased from your system. With Java, we can do all that safely and do it broadly and across platforms.

It seems like it's the same thinking that's motivating IE 4.0.
The difference is we don't have to run the OS. There's pros and cons on both sides. There's a certain advantage to owning the OS; there's a certain advantage to not having to worry about an operating system revenue. So people will get to choose.

There are an increasing number of users who are spending more and more of their day in the Navigator. What do you do on a PC? You do email, you surf the Web, and if you're creating documents or content you're probably creating them in space to post online. Navigator does that. So the stuff that you need to do that's not in Navigator right now is like manage your local files. Maybe run spreadsheets. That's about it.

In what time frame do you foresee this happening?
Six to 12 months.

Do you feel like the pace forces you to make decisions you'd rather not make?
No, well the pace forces people to make decisions period. CNET has the option, for example, to wait for ActiveX or wait for the next great authoring tool, whatever it is. You can't, you don't. You'll be creamed by your competitors if you do.

Most companies, a lot of internal corporate IS people, are under the gun to deliver stuff right now, and they can't wait. So I think the pace has accelerated permanently. These technologies are only feeding it. But it's the way things always would have been done. We're only able to move as fast as we are because we're benefiting from a lot of stuff that's happened in the last 10 or 15 years. There are ways to communicate extremely effectively with the press just through email. Software distribution: It's just painless and transparent now. That's never been the case before. The feedback from customers is instantaneous. Sales channels: We were able to get Navigator Personal Edition into 80,000 stores in a matter of a few weeks because the distribution channels are there that weren't there 10 years ago.

NEXT: Netscape vs. Microsoft

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CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 6, 1996, Marc Andreessen
Netscape vs. Microsoft

Microsoft has so many resources, it's easy for them to amplify their message. Has it become more difficult for you to articulate your message?
It hasn't gotten more difficult to articulate; it's gotten more difficult to broadcast it. And the reason is we're dealing with a company that has 1,000 working on PR in the Internet space and we have 300 people working with standards bodies. They have 2,000 or 3,000 marketing people ... some ungodly number like this, in the developer organization. That's where the resource differential comes in. I think we may still have more programmers on it than they do. But on the marketing side, there's no question theirs is an enormous marketing machine.

Do you think it would take a decree from the Department of Justice to stop Microsoft, or pure competitive forces in the marketplace can determine what will happen?
On the DOJ thing, there's a fairly straightforward set of rules for the ways that different companies, including those of monopolies, can compete: They're either legal or not. So those are sort of a separate set of issues. But more broadly, we think we've got a pretty decent story, got a pretty decent appeal. In many cases, it's different than Microsoft's. So we're just going to keep on going.

Microsoft has been good at freezing the market with vaporware announcements.
Sure. They've been good at freezing traditional markets. They haven't been so good at freezing the Internet yet.

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