Netscape Founder May Stay at AOL
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) _ America Online Inc. will reportedly make Marc Andreessen, the 27-year-old cofounder of Netscape Communications Corp., chief technology officer once it completes its acquisition of Netscape.
The move should help prevent a brain-drain at Netscape, where before the merger, engineers disdained Richmond, Va.-based AOL as technologically unsophisticated.
Andreessen, who was in charge of software development at Netscape, will report to AOL Chairman and Chief Executive Steve Case, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
Netscape spokeswoman Patti Pierson declined comment Monday, as did AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose.
``I think it’s essential for Netscape to have one of their favorite leaders near the top at AOL,″ said Stan Dolbert, a group director at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. ``It’s real important from a talent retention point of view, and it also sends a strong signal that AOL is going to try to understand the technology, not just be a technology user.″
Andreessen helped create the Internet browser that made the World Wide Web so popular. He’s expected to play a major role in keeping talent and bolstering morale at Netscape, which will continue working on Internet software as a division of AOL.
Netscape agreed in November to be purchased by AOL for stock then valued at $4.2 billion. Andreessen’s status hinges on completion of the deal, the newspaper’s sources said.
Both companies have said the deal should be completed early this spring. The U.S. Department of Justice is checking the deal closely, since it could have an impact on the antitrust trial of Microsoft Corp.
Though AOL has become a success by selling its simple-to-use service to the masses, Netscape was needed for the Internet expertise it brings to competition with Microsoft, Yahoo! Inc. and Excite Inc., which has agreed to be purchased by At Home Corp.
``It makes a certain amount of sense that AOL would not throw such an asset out the door,″ said Jim Balderston at Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City, Calif. ``The point to remember is that he does not have management and operational responsibilities.″
``He still has some value in evangelizing the Internet message to the populace,″ Balderston added. ``Is he going to lead AOL in a new direction? I don’t think so. That’s Steve Case’s job. Andreessen will contribute his two cents and Case will listen or he won’t.″
Andreessen co-founded Netscape in 1994 with James Clark and the company made popular an Internet browser developed by Andreessen and some classmates from the University of Illinois.
Andreessen dropped his disdain for AOL after concluding that Silicon Valley companies weren’t paying enough attention to what average consumers want.
Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, Calif., said Adreessen’s position at Netscape was ``largely ceremonial. If it’s the same kind of thing at AOL, that would be consistent with (critical) comments he made.″
Enderle criticized Andreessen’s ``people skills″ and said that could pose a problem for AOL. However, he said Case is ``relatively astute, and I find it hard to believe he would pick somebody for the role who lacks some of the fundamental skills to make it a success.″