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Clark, Jim - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Jim Clark

netscape company computer browser

Netscape Communications


James H. “Jim” Clark, the founder of two extraordinarily successful Silicon Valley computer software companies, is a classic example of a visionary entrepreneur. While still a professor at Stanford University in 1981, he founded Silicon Graphics, today a billion-dollar computer workstation company. In December 1994, Clark cofounded the revolutionary Netscape, which immediately became the Internet’s dominant online browser. In September 1997, he was listed 15th among Forbes ‘s "Technology’s Richest 100" with an estimated wealth of $597 million.

Personal Life

A native of Texas, Jim Clark received a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1970 and a master of science degree in physics in 1971 from Louisiana State University in New Orleans. As a graduate student, he was awarded the Research Society of America’s 1971 Annual Gold Medal. In 1974, he completed a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Utah. His doctoral thesis, the first implementation of what is today known as “virtual reality,” focused on building special purpose hardware for 3-D graphics applications. In 1995 Clark received an honorary doctorate of science degree from the University of Utah.

From 1974 to 1978 Clark was an assistant professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and in 1979 he became associate professor at Stanford University. He lectures widely on technology and business developments in the computer field at major conferences and universities throughout the world. Clark received the Research Society of America’s Annual Gold Medal in physics in 1970, the Annual Computer Graphics Achievement Award in 1984, and the Arthur Young and Company, and Venture magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in 1988.

In the spring of 1996, Clark, who likes to sail and fly planes, announced that he would work with veteran yachtsman Paul Cayard to create a state-of-the-art racing yacht to win back the America’s Cup for the United States at the turn of the century. Clark and his wife Nancy live in Woodside, California, and have two children.

Career Details

At Stanford, Clark and six graduate students worked on ways to enliven computer images with three-dimensional graphics. When no existing computer companies were interested in the technology the group developed, Clark and his students, using venture capital, started their own computer workstation company, Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) in Mountain View, California. The company’s 3-D graphical systems appealed first to architects and engineers for use in designing buildings, cars, and rocket engines, but soon became essential to filmmakers and animators. Silicon Graphics computers were used, for example, to create the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the special effects in countless other films. The workstations also were used by defense and aerospace contractors to train jet pilots and tank personnel.

Silicon Graphics thrived and began to move into chip development for video game and interactive television markets, but Clark was frustrated in his attempts to accelerate the company’s plans to make low-cost, high-volume hardware to connect with the burgeoning information highway. In a highly controversial move, Clark replaced his entire management team in 1984. SGI’s profits continued to grow, from $5 million in 1984 to approximately $550 million in 1991. In March 1994, ready to move on, Clark resigned as chairman of the company.

For several months following his resignation from SGI, Clark contemplated investing in a number of business ventures. As he studied the computer technology field, he became fascinated with the Internet. He was especially intrigued with NCSA Mosaic, an exceptionally popular World Wide Web browser software prototype that had been developed by a team of student and staff computer programmers at the University of Illinois and distributed free on the Internet.

In a now-legendary e-mail message, Clark, 50, contacted Marc Andreesen, Mosaic’s 23-year-old creator and asked if he would be interested in forming a company to create a commercially viable improved version of the Mosaic browser. In April 1994, Clark invested about $3 million in the new firm, which began life with three employees with offices in Mountain View. The new company originally was called Mosaic Communications Corporation but, after the University of Illinois contested the use of the name, the fledgling firm was rechristened Netscape Communications.

By December 1994, Netscape had released its revolutionary browser, Netscape Navigator. Almost immediately, the new browser became the industry standard. Within only one or two months, Netscape claimed 70 percent of the browser market. It offered users speed, sophisticated graphics, and a special encryption code that secured their credit card transactions on the Web. From the first, the new browser faced virtually no competition.

With Netscape’s Navigator freely available to the public via downloading from the Internet, how does the company make a profit? It charges fees to create and maintain web servers for the sophisticated software businesses. The fees range from $1,500 to $50,000 for server versions of Navigator, depending on the complexity of a company’s home page and the range of services provided to its customers. For businesses designed to conduct much of their business on the Internet, Netscape provides databases of online customers and the ability to secure credit card transactions. Netscape also offers users the option of purchasing the software and thereby receiving customer service.

The company continues to race to keep ahead of industry giant, Microsoft, which introduced its own browser, Internet Explorer, in 1995. Explorer also can be freely downloaded and comes bundled with the Microsoft Windows operating system. Although Netscape remains at the head of the pack, Explorer had pulled almost even by early 1998. Netscape was the first browser to introduce Java, the programming language that animates web sites. It has also expanded its product line to include software that runs inside internal corporate networks.

In June 1996, Clark launched another successful company—Healtheon Corporation, which online offers information services to help insurance companies and employers better manage their paperwork. Healtheon reported $13.4 million in sales for 1997, a 21.6 percent growth from the previous year.

Social and Economic Impact

When Netscape made an initial public stock offering of 3.5 million shares on August 9, 1995, an unprecedented stock frenzy ensued. Investors bought the stock in record numbers. Opening at $28 a share, the stock closed at $74, making Netscape’s market value $2.3 billion in just one day. With Netscape’s continuing strong showing on the stock market, Clark, Andreesen, and many of the company’s employees have become very wealthy.

Leaving SGI was a risky move for Clark, who left behind 40,000 shares of stock. His idea to create a company based solely on the Internet was virtually unheard of at the time he started Netscape. As recounted in Industry Week, Clark recalled, “It seemed a little crazy. No one thought you could build a business around the Internet, but my instincts were if there were 25 million people using it, there was a business to be built.” Giving away the software to Netscape Navigator also proved to be a revolutionary idea. “People knew then that I was certifiably nuts—starting this company, hiring a bunch of students, and now giving the software away,” Clark said.

Chronology: Jim Clark

1944: Born.

1974: Completed Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Utah.

1981: Founded Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI).

1994: Resigned from SGI and formed Netscape Communications Corporation.

1995: Netscape stock jumped from $28 to more than $74 a share in one day.

1995: Developed Netscape Navigator, an Internet browser program.

1995: Stepped down as chief executive of Netscape but remained chairperson of the board.

1996: Founded Healtheon Corporation, an Internet-based health care service.

From the beginning, Clark has served as chairman of Netscape. His role, as the company established itself as a phenomenal success in well under two years, he has been able to put the management team together. Netscape’s chief executive officer is James Barksdale, whom Clark recruited from McCaw Cellular, AT&T’s wireless services division, to head the company. With Barksdale in charge of day-to-day management, Andreesen can continue to come up with new ideas and Clark can look for new frontiers to conquer.

Clark, June (actually, Algeria Junius) [next] [back] Clark, Alexander(1826–1891) - Lawyer, newspaper publisher, orator, Achieves in Military and Political Life, Chronology

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