Marc Andreessen (born 1972) has been one of the key players in making the Internet and World Wide Web accessible to the masses, thanks to his development of Netscape Navigator, a browser that integrates text, graphics, and sound.
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. The first such product, called a browser, was invented by a team including software developer and entrepreneur, Marc Andreessen. He developed the Mosaic program as a college student. It later became the Netscape Navigator when he co-founded his own company in 1994. This browser software had a profound impact on society. According to some estimates, 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.
Young Computer Whiz
Andreessen was born in Iowa in 1972. He lived in the small town of New Lisbon, Wisconsin, with his parents, Lowell and Patricia. Marc Andreessen's father worked in the agricultural field and his mother worked for Lands' End, a catalogue retailer. Andreessen was not a typical New Lisbon boy. He spent his early years reading and learning about computers. 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, Andreessen's program was wiped out. The next year, his parents bought him his first computer, a TRS-80 that cost only a few hundred dollars. Marc taught himself BASIC programming from library books in order to develop video games for the new PC. Andreessen's teachers and classmates from New Lisbon remember him as a good student who excelled in computing, math, English, and history. Andreessen could even challenge teachers, and was known to question the relevance of their assignments. At the University of Illinois, Andreessen planned to major in electrical engineering, which he considered his most lucrative option, but then changed to computer science.
Andreessen became interested in the Internet while working at the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at Champaign-Urbana. At the NCSA, he worked with a programmer, Eric Bina, to develop an interface that could navigate the World Wide Web by integrating text, graphics, and sound. The result was Mosaic, which the NCSA team completed in 1993 and posted for free over the Internet. Over two million copies of the browser were downloaded the first year. Mosaic was responsible for a 10,000-fold increase in Web users over a period of two years.
After graduating from the University of Illinois with a bachelor of science degree in 1993, Andreessen took a job with Enterprise Integration Technologies, a producer of Internet security-enhancement products, in California. He was contacted by Jim Clark, a former associate professor of computer science at Stanford University. Clark had founded Silicon Graphics Inc., a company which made computers that specialized in graphics processing. He was interested in starting a business with Andreessen. The two decided to combine Andreessen's technical knowledge with Clark's business expertise in order to launch their own company in 1994.
The company was originally named Mosaic Communications Corp. When the NCSA, which owned the copyright to the Mosaic software, objected to the name, the partners changed it to Netscape. Andreessen, as head of technology, worked to make Mosaic faster and more interactive. He was assisted 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 August 9, 1995, Netscape first offered shares in the company to the public. That day, shares were priced at $28 and opened at an unprecedented $71 a share. In one day, the 24-year-old Andreessen became worth more than $50 million. To celebrate, he bought his first suit. By December of that year, Netscape's stock reached an all-time high. The value of Andreessen's shares in the company skyrocketed to $171 million.
Andreessen was known for putting in long hours at Netscape, but his management style differed very much from that of his main competitor, Microsoft. Andreessen remained close to the programmers who worked for him, and maintained a collegial, team-like atmosphere. He did not insist that his employees work long hours-in fact, he encouraged them to limit office hours to 50 per week. Characteristic of this team-oriented approach was Andreessen's decision to offer Netscape's browser code over the Internet to anyone who wanted it. His reasoning was that the feedback he received from other software developers could lead to new ideas for Netscape. In July 1997, Andreessen became executive vice-president in charge of product development at Netscape. With a staff of 1,000, Andreessen hoped to stay ahead of the giant Microsoft. From the beginning, Andreessen had 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.
Competition from Microsoft
Microsoft Corporation, which had been focused primarily on its operating system and software for personal computers (PCs) until late 1995, began to realize the value of Internet browser software and announced that it intended to work in that area. In August 1995, Microsoft released the Internet Explorer 1.0 with its Windows 95 operating system. Later versions of Internet Explorer were given away for free and by December 1997, Netscape's lead in the browser market was down to 60%. In January 1998, Netscape decided to give its browser away for free. Andreessen's challenge was to get Netscape back to profitability. He no longer wrote software programs himself, but as the head of product development, envisioned new solutions for emerging technologies. With Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale, Andreessen shifted the company's focus away from the browser market and toward innovations for intranets (corporate networks) and electronic commerce. He also began developing Netscape's web site into an Internet gateway similar to that of America Online.
By late 1998, Netscape's share of the browser market had dipped to a little more than 50 percent. The United State government, which had been investigating Microsoft's business practices since 1991, decided to prosecute Microsoft for unfair business practices. A lengthy court case ensued, in which the government proved that Microsoft used its clout in the marketplace to try to drive Netscape out of business. It did this, the government claimed, by tying its Explorer browser with its Windows operating system, which was installed on the vast majority of desktop computers. As the case stretched out, Andreessen and others in the computer industry were called to testify. Before the courts reached their decision, the leading Internet service provider, America Online (AOL), announced in late 1998 that it was acquiring Netscape. AOL then announced that Andreessen would be leaving Netscape in early 1999 to join their firm as chief technology officer. "His role is considered crucial to merging AOL's consumer-oriented focus with Netscape's technical expertise," wrote Jon Swartz in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Andreessen resides in Palo Alto, California, with his fiancé, Elizabeth Horn, and their pet bulldogs. After his job change, he began commuting between Netscape's Mountain View headquarters and America Online offices in Dulles, Virginia. Andreessen enjoys a range of interests, including science fiction, classical music, philosophy, and business strategy. As might be appropriate for a computer whiz, Andreessen 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.
Further Reading on Marc Andreessen
Newsmakers Gale Research, 1996.
Business Week, April 13, 1998.
CS Alumni News, Winter 1994.
Fortune, December 9, 1996.
Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1996.
Nation's Business, January 1996.
People Weekly, September 11, 1995.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1999.
Time, February 19, 1996; December 7, 1998.
USA Today October 23, 1998.
Veri Sign, Digital ID Hall of Fame, 1997.
Washington Post, March 25, 1997.
E-Media August 14, 1995. Available from http://www.e-media.com.
Hoover's Online, March 2, 1999. Available from http://www.hoovers.com.