Founders: Jim Clark, Marc Andreeson
Industry: Internet Browsers
Year Founded: 1994
Year Defunct: 2003
Netscape was the first company to attempt to capitalize on the emerging World Wide Web. It was founded under the name Mosaic Communications Corporation on April 4, 1994, the brainchild of Jim Clark who had recruited Marc Andreessen as co-founder and Kleiner Perkins as investors. The first meeting between Clark and Andreessen was never truly about a software or service like Netscape, but more about a product that was similar to Nintendo.
The company's first product was the web browser, called Mosaic Netscape 0.9, released on October 13, 1994. Within four months of its release, it had already taken three-quarters of the browser market. It became the main browser for Internet users in such a short time due to its superiority over other competition, like Mosaic. This browser was subsequently renamed Netscape Navigator, and the company took the "Netscape" name (coined by employee Greg Sands, although it was also a trademark of Cisco Systems on November 14, 1994, to avoid trademark ownership problems with NCSA, where the initial Netscape employees had previously created the NCSA Mosaic web browser. The Mosaic Netscape web browser did not use any NCSA Mosaic code. The internal codename for the company's browser was Mozilla, which stood for "Mosaic killer", as the company's goal was to displace NCSA Mosaic as the world's number one web browser. A cartoon Godzilla-like lizard mascot was drawn by artist-employee Dave Titus, which went well with the theme of crushing the competition. The Mozilla mascot featured prominently on Netscape's website in the company's early years. However, the need to project a more "professional" image (especially towards corporate clients) led to this being removed.
On August 9, 1995, Netscape made an extremely successful IPO. The stock was set to be offered at US$14 per share, but a last-minute decision doubled the initial offering to US$28 per share. The stock's value soared to US$75 during the first day of trading, nearly a record for first-day gain. The stock closed at US$58.25, which gave Netscape a market value of US$2.9 billion. While it was somewhat unusual for a company to go public prior to becoming profitable, Netscape's revenues had, in fact, doubled every quarter in 1995. The success of this IPO subsequently inspired the use of the term "Netscape moment" to describe a high-visibility IPO that signals the dawn of a new industry. During this period, Netscape also pursued a publicity strategy (crafted by Rosanne Siino, then head of public relations) packaging Andreessen as the company's "rock star." The events of this period ultimately landed Andreessen, barefoot, on the cover of Time magazine. The IPO also helped kickstart widespread investment in internet companies that created the dot-com bubble.
Netscape advertised that "the web is for everyone" and stated one of its goals was to "level the playing field" among operating systems by providing a consistent web browsing experience across them. The Netscape web browser interface was identical on any computer. Netscape later experimented with prototypes of a web-based system which would enable users to access and edit their files anywhere across a network, no matter what computer or operating system they happened to be using. This did not escape the attention of Microsoft, which viewed the commoditization of operating systems as a direct threat to its bottom line, i.e. a move from Windows to another operating system would yield a similar browsing experience thus reducing barriers to change. It is alleged that several Microsoft executives visited the Netscape campus in June 1995 to propose dividing the market (an allegation denied by Microsoft and, if true, would have breached antitrust laws), which would have allowed Microsoft to produce web browser software for Windows while leaving all other operating systems to Netscape. Netscape refused the proposition.
On November 24, 1998, America Online (AOL) announced it would acquire Netscape Communications in a tax-free stock-swap valued at US$4.2 billion. During this time, Andreessen's view of Netscape changed; to him, it was no longer just a browser, intranet, extranet, or a software company, but rather an amalgamation of products and services. By the time the deal closed on March 17, 1999, it was valued at US$10 billion. This merger was ridiculed by many who believed that the two corporate cultures could not possibly mesh; one of its most prominent critics was longtime Netscape developer Jamie Zawinski. The acquisition was seen as a way for AOL to gain a bargaining chip against Microsoft, to let it become less dependent on the Internet Explorer web browser. Others believed that AOL was interested in Netcenter, or Netscape's web properties, which drew some of the highest traffic worldwide.
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