[news=http://img190.imageshack.us/img190/4127/netscape1iz.gif]TECHNOLOGY SPECIAL REPORT: AN ORAL HISTORY
Remembering Netscape: The Birth of the Web
By Adam Lashinsky
For the tenth anniversary of its IPO, FORTUNE recruited dozens of players to tell, in their own words, the story of the startup brought us into the Internet era. The first of two-part story.
Picture a world without Google, without eBay or Amazon or broadband, where few people have even heard of IPOs. That was reality just a decade ago. The company that changed it—bringing us into the Internet age—was a brilliant flash in the pan called Netscape. For the tenth anniversary of its IPO, FORTUNE recruited dozens of players to tell the story of the startup in their own words...
It was the spark that touched off the Internet boom. On Wednesday, Aug. 9, 1995, a 16-month-old Silicon Valley startup called Netscape tried to go public, but demand for the shares was so high that for almost two hours that morning, trading couldn't open. The stock, which had been priced at $28 a share, zoomed as high as $75 that day and closed at $58. Measured against the market frenzies that came later, its rise might have seemed predictable. But it blew the minds of people in the tech world like Sun Microsystems co-founders Andy Bechtolsheim (now back at Sun) and Bill Joy (now a venture capitalist).
Until then, Silicon Valley was just a place where microchips were made, not the fountainhead of global commerce. The public was oblivious to the Internet; "surfing" meant catching a wave in the ocean or mindlessly flicking the TV's remote control.
But Netscape mesmerized investors and captured America's imagination. More than any other company, it set the technological, social, and financial tone of the Internet age. Its founders, Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark—a baby-faced 24-year-old programmer from the Midwest and a restless middle-aged tech pioneer who badly wanted to strike gold again—inspired a generation of entrepreneurs to try to become tech millionaires. Executives with old-economy experience thought they could stake a claim to startup riches by quitting their jobs and following the example of Jim Barksdale, the former McCaw Communications chief who came in as Netscape's CEO. And Netscape's practice of openly sharing technology so that other programmers and their companies could build upon its ideas helped give rise to a global technology community, the open-source movement.
All that happened just ten years ago. In the following pages, we capture the voices of the IPO's primary players as well as those of people who had bit parts. They reveal how Netscape founder Jim Clark initially was focused on anything but the Internet; the unique blend of Gen X technologists and seasoned managers that became a template for so many of the dot-coms that followed; and the surprise of the IPO itself—even Netscape's investment-banking firm, Morgan Stanley, didn't appreciate what it had wrought.
As engineer John Giannandrea (employee No. 18) memorably observes, Netscape brought the world Internet time, which whirls much faster than reality's clock. Iconic and brilliant, yet deeply confused as a business, the company rocketed from birth to huge acclaim to oblivion in fewer than five years ...