October 13, 2004 4:00 AM PDT

Where are Netscape's pioneers today?

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If you're looking for the people who launched the Netscape browser 10 years ago, you might find them in boardrooms, offices, cubicles and even a nightclub or two throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Netscape's ringleaders--commonly referred to as Marc, Clark and Bark--have led busy but in most cases lower-profile professional lives in recent years.

Founder Marc Andreessen, who led development of the original Mosaic browser, is founder and chairman of Opsware, a data center software company.

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Netscape's former chief executive, Jim Barksdale, came to Netscape having led McCaw Cellular and Federal Express. He now serves on a number of boards (including AOL's) and works on literacy in his home state of Mississippi. He and his late wife donated $100 million toward a joint venture with the state to improve the state's literacy rate.

Jim Clark, who brought Andreessen and his colleagues to Silicon Valley to found Mosaic Communications (later Netscape), launched a series of companies, some of which have fared better than others. These include WebMD, Shutterfly, Neoteris, Kibu.com and MyCFO.

More recently, Clark has been involved in commercial real estate in south Florida.

But if you want to find a whole lot of former Netscape employees in one place, look no further than LiveOps in Palo Alto, Calif.

The product of a 2-year-old merger and funded this year to the tune of $22 million by Menlo Ventures and CMEA Ventures, LiveOps is an Internet-based, distributed call center provider where roughly a third of the staff are Netscape alumni.

Chris Houck, one of Netscape's founding engineers, is LiveOps' senior engineer for applications. Michael Toy, founding team manager for the Netscape browser, is director of agent management for LiveOps. Rick Potts, a senior engineer at Netscape and the architect of the first 16-bit Java virtual machine, is now a LiveOps senior engineer. Matt Fisher, who did the original quality assurance work for Netscape, now does product management for LiveOps.

And the list goes on, through more than a dozen names, all the way up to LiveOps' chief technology officer, Lloyd Tabb, who built Netscape's first HTML Composer and first scripting engine, and LiveOps' co-founder and vice president of engineering, Jim Everingham, an engineer on the original Netscape 1.0 browser and later head of browser development.

"We're probably the largest single collection of people who were originally involved in Netscape engineering," said Everingham at the company's headquarters. "It's the same team, and we love to work with each other. They all want to do something that they feel good about. It's a pretty big rush for everyone here right now."

Operator. How may I help you?
LiveOps now relies on technologies built at Netscape, including the JavaScript Web scripting language and part of the Mozilla Web browser, to link together an army of far-flung call center operators who work from home and field sales and customer support phone calls over the Internet.

The ability of LiveOps to scale to thousands of operators without investing in brick-and-mortar offices or traditional phone lines could give it a piece of what Everingham calls a $250 billion-per-year call center market.

Everingham said this year's Series A funding round gave LiveOps "an attractive valuation," and that the start-up's growth curve was steep. So far the company has more than 100 corporate customers and 5,000 operators, and describes itself as "solidly profitable and debt-free."

"We're just trying to hold the wheels on the cart at this point," Everingham said.

LiveOps is by no means the first start-up to draw heavily on Netscape talent.

The highways of Silicon Valley are littered with reminders of so-called second-generation Internet start-ups, some of them successful and independent, some of them acquired, some of them dead.

Early Netscape employees went on to found Internet-by-telephone company Tellme Networks, which has survived independently but now faces new competitive threats from voice-over-IP carriers.

Key Netscape veterans had a hand in the creation of Epinions, a shopping comparison Web site that survived long enough to be acquired by Shopping.com.

One great magnet for Netscape talent became a cautionary tale of mismanagement during the Internet financial bubble. Geocast Network Systems, which was going to provide Internet access over the broadcast spectrum, burned through a second funding round of $74 million in less than a year before closing its doors and being sold off for parts.

Such were the employment opportunities for Netscape veterans that AOL had to offer significant incentives to retain talent after announcing its acquisition of the company.

Perhaps the biggest departure from the world of bits and browsers is the career of Jamie Zawinski, a key engineer in first Netscape release and the evangelist for its subsequent incarnation as an open source product.

Zawinski, whose title at Netscape was "hacker" before it became "hacker emeritus" and finally "loose cannon," is now the proprietor of the DNA Lounge in San Francisco.

While Zawinski admits to maintaining a collection of screen savers called "xscreensaver," and acting as the system administrator for his nightclub's open source computer systems, he insists that his professional life is primarily nontechnical.

"That's it," Zawinski said of his vocation as a club owner. "I just sell beer."

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Sell beer not browser
makes for better sales. Plus your customers don't
complain about bugs in your product (I hope)
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Sell beer not browser
makes for better sales. Plus your customers don't
complain about bugs in your product (I hope)
Posted by (3 comments )
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