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Andreesen, Marc - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Marc Andreesen

netscape mosaic internet browser

(1972-)
Netscape Communications
Corporation

Overview

The amazing growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web has been due in large part to the genius of Marc Andreesen. His browser software, Mosaic and Netscape Navigator, has made using the World Wide Web easy and popular for both businesses and average consumers. The company he helped found, Netscape Communications, made Andreesen an instant millionaire and helped to bring the Internet into the lives of ordinary people.

Personal Life

Andreesen was born in Iowa in 1972. He grew up in the small town of New Lisbon, Wisconsin, with his parents, Lowell and Patricia. Marc Andreesen’s father works as an agriculturist and his mother works for Land’s End, a catalogue retailer. Andreesen was not the typical New Lisbon boy. He spent his early years reading and learning about computers to alleviate the boredom of small town life. In sixth grade, he wrote his first computer program—a virtual calculator for doing his math homework. But the program was on the school’s PC, and when the custodian turned off the building’s power, Andreesen’s program was wiped out. The next year, his parents bought him his first computer, a TRS-80 from Radio Shack that cost only a few hundred dollars. Marc taught himself BASIC programming from library books so he could write video games for the new PC.

Andreesen’s teachers and classmates from New Lisbon remember him as a good student who excelled in computing, math, English, and history. “Marc had an intellectual capacity that could intimidate people,” said his former principal Ken Adams. Andreesen could also challenge teachers, and was known to question the relevance of their assignments. At the University of Illinois, Andreesen planned to major in electrical engineering, which he considered his most lucrative option, but then changed to computer science. He graduated with a BS in 1993.

Andreesen now lives in Palo Alto, California with his fiancée, Elizabeth Horn, and their pet bull dogs. He enjoys a range of interests, including science fiction, classical music, philosophy, and business strategy. As might be appropriate for a computer whiz, Andreesen claims to be a “Netizen” himself—he gets all his news from the World Wide Web, buys his books from the online site Amazon.com, and even uses the Internet to check theater times.

Career Details

A $6.85 an hour job at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) got Andreesen interested in the Internet. At the NCSA, he worked with master programmer Eric Bina to develop an interface that could navigate the World Wide Web, integrating text, graphics, and sound. The result was Mosaic, which the NCSA team completed in 1993 and posted for free over the Internet. Over 2 million copies of the browser were down-loaded the first year. Mosaic was responsible for a 10,000-fold increase in Web users over a period of two years.

After graduating from Illinois in 1993, Andreesen took a job with Enterprise Integration Technologies, a producer of Internet security-enhancement products, in California. Soon, however, he received an e-mail from Jim Clark, a former associate professor of computer science at Stanford University. Clark had founded Silicon Graphics Inc., which made computers that specialized in graphics processing, and was interested in improving on Mosaic. He set up a meeting with Andreesen, and the two decided to combine Andreesen’s technical knowhow and Clark’s business expertise to launch their own company in 1994.

The company was named Mosaic Communications Corp., but when the NCSA, which owned the copyright to the Mosaic software objected to the name, the partners changed it to Netscape. Andreesen, as vice president of technology at the new company, worked to make Mosaic faster and more interactive. Andreesen was helped by several team members from the original Mosaic project at NCSA, whom he persuaded to join Netscape. Soon, the company released their new browser, which the development team wanted to call “Mozilla”-short for Mosaic Killer. The marketing department, however, insisted on Netscape Navigator.

The program was distributed free on the Internet, and quickly became extremely popular. This established Netscape as a “brand” name, and prompted computer users to try other Netscape products. Soon, the company was profitable. On 9 August 1995, Netscape first offered shares in the company to the public. That day, shares opened at $7 and shot up to $36. They closed at $29. In one day, the then-24-year-old Andreesen became worth more than $50 million. To celebrate, he went out and bought his first suit.

By December of that year, Netscape’s stock reached an all-time high. The value of Andreesen’s shares in the company skyrocketed to $171 million. But at almost the same time, Microsoft Corporation, which until then had been focusing primarily on PCs and had ignored the Internet, realized the value of browser software and announced that it would begin to work in that area. In July 1997, Andreesen became executive vice-president in charge of product development at Netscape. In charge of a staff of 1,000, Andreesen set out to stay ahead of the giant Microsoft.

In September 1997, Microsoft launched its first browser, Internet Explorer 4.0. This was Netscape Navigator’s first real competitor, and it began to lure Netscape users away. In January 1998, Netscape shocked Wall Street by announcing an $88 million loss for the quarter. By April, according to Business Week , Microsoft had captured about 40 percent of the browser market, while Netscape’s share had shrunk from about 80 percent to around 60 percent.

Andreesen’s challenge is to get Netscape back to profitability. He no longer writes software programs himself, but as the head of product development, envisions new solutions for emerging technologies. With Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale, Andreesen is shifting the company’s focus away from the browser market and toward innovations for intranets (corporate networks) and electronic commerce. He is also developing Netscape’s Website into an Internet gateway similar to America Online.

Social and Economic Impact

Andreesen’s browser software had a profound impact on society. According to People Weekly , Mosaic stimulated a 10,000 percent increase in the number of Web users within two years from its debut. And Netscape Navigator was even more popular. The astronomical growth of the World Wide Web could not have occurred without a simple product that helped users find their way through the vast, and sometimes disorganized, material on the Web. And the first such product was invented by Andreesen.

From the beginning, Andreesen used innovative strategies to get his program out to the public. By allowing computer users to download Mosaic and Netscape Navigator for free, he took a chance. But the browsers became so popular that users quickly developed confidence in the Netscape brand, and purchased other Netscape goods and services.

Andreesen is known for putting in long hours at Netscape, but his management style differs very much from that of his main competitor, Microsoft. Andreesen remains close to the programmers who work for him, and he maintains a collegial, team-like atmosphere. He does not insist that his employees work long hours-in fact, he encourages them to limit office hours to 50 per week. Characteristic of this team-oriented approach is Andreesen’s decision to offer Netscape’s browser code over the Internet to anyone who wants it. His reasoning is that the feedback he gets from other software developers could lead to new ideas for Netscape.

Andreesen has had to respond quickly to the intense competition within the computer industry. Microsoft’s entry into the browser market has challenged Andreesen to continue to improve Netscape’s products and to develop new ones. One new focus is to add substantial content and services to Netscape’s Website, making it a rival of America Online. “Our biggest mistake,” he told Business Week “was we didn’t think of this two years ago.”

Chronology: Marc Andreesen

1972: Born.

1993: Developed Mosaic.

1994: Cofounded Netscape Communications, Inc. and released Netscape Navigator.

1995: Netscape IPO earned millions in first day.

1995: Microsoft announced it will enter browser market to compete with Netscape.

1997: Andreesen took control of product development at Netscape.

1998: Andreesen shifted focus to intranets and content-rich Netscape Website.

Though he admits he needs more experience, Andreesen likes business strategy. Venture capitalist John Doerr commented that Andreesen "has retained his fresh point of view about what’s possible He has grown a lot " And investment analyst Mary Meeker said of Andreesen “He’ll be a great CEO-five to ten years from now.”

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