> And Tim Berners-Lee, don't forget, was the guy who didn't
> think images should be in HTML. It was [Netscape
> co-founder and vice president of technology] Marc
> Andreessen who flew against what Tim wanted, because Tim
> thought it would bring the 'Net down. Tim's a good guy,
> but he's a physicist -- he's not a market understander,
> if you know what I mean.
And to think that Tim & Robert & Eric have to share an ACM System Software
Award with a man of such generous character... Just wait until you read what
the question was about, and their misunderstanding of Tim's WWW4 Keynote
(which they conspicuously didn't attend)
Netscape's Jim Clark takes Bill Gates to task
By Don Tennant
Posted at 7:18 PM PT, Feb 9, 1996
HONG KONG -- James H. Clark, co-founder and chairman of Internet high-flyer
Netscape Communications Corp., is in the midst of a whirlwind Asian tour to
meet with business partners throughout the region. Clark sat down with
Computerworld Hong Kong Editor Don Tennant on Thursday for this in-depth,
Q: It seems to be in vogue to predict that Web browsers are going to
disappear before long. Tim Berners-Lee, the director of the World Wide Web
Consortium, and Jakob Nielsen of SunSoft's stategic technology office are
proponents of the view that browsers will become obsolete because that
function will be fully integrated into a computer's operating environment.
What's your response?
A: The notion of a Web browser is a pretty universal notion -- I don't see
HTML going away.
It's really a matter of time before browsers become kind of transparent. The
differential between fetching something from your own computer and fetching it
on the 'Net is going to become less and less obvious to the user. I guess
that's what they mean.
We've got numerous products ourselves, so we're not too worried about it. And
we've got strategies that are consistent with the Web browser being a much
more transparent, universal piece of software.
There are two [connotations] to saying they'll go away: One is they become
everywhere, so no one notices they're there anymore; the other is that they
totally vanish -- that's ridiculous.
And Tim Berners-Lee, don't forget, was the guy who didn't think images should
be in HTML. It was [Netscape co-founder and vice president of technology]
Marc Andreessen who flew against what Tim wanted, because Tim thought it would
bring the 'Net down. Tim's a good guy, but he's a physicist -- he's not a
market understander, if you know what I mean.
Q: During my interview with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates when he was in Hong Kong
in December, he made the following statement: "An Internet browser is a
trivial piece of software. There are at least 30 companies that have written
very credible Internet browsers, so that's nothing." I thought it would be
only fair to get your response to that.
A: Jim Clark says, quote: MS-DOS is a trivial piece of software. And there
are at least 10 companies who have written that trivial piece of software.
I'm dead serious. Why was he successful? Because he wrote some beautiful
piece of software? That's totally ridiculous. He didn't even write the damn
thing. He licensed it. At least we've got the guys who originally wrote ours.
Q: In the same context, Gates expressed the view that the excitement
surrounding Netscape is part of the "gold rush" mentality associated with the
Internet, and that it will be proven to be an overreaction. What do you think?
A: There are 100 different ways you can respond to that. First of all, I have
tremendous respect for Microsoft -- they are a brilliant bunch of people;
Gates himself is a brilliant guy, a tremendous strategist.
It doesn't surprise me that when people find the emergence of a significant
new company, that they would try to trivialize it, especially if they'd been
accustomed to being the center of attention. So that's just a normal human
reaction, and a competitive response to what people were inevitably saying to
him: "Is Microsoft dead like IBM was?" But Microsoft isn't dead; Microsoft is
a hell of a good company -- they don't have to have the World Wide Web in
order to exist.
But for some unexplained reason, they feel like no one should have any market
share in anything with regard to software except them, because of their
God-given right to own the entire market. That's one kind of response, and I
think it's a perfectly reasonable response -- they are very ego-centric; they
think they are the only ones in the world who know how to do software, and
that's just ludicrous. The world is uniformly covered with smart people, and
most of them don't work for Microsoft or Sun Microsystems or Netscape.
But anyway, another response is that you've got a fundamental transformation
under way in about five industries that are going to all embrace this
There's the telecommunications industry, which is a couple of trillion
The media industry, starting with publishing and going on to broadcast media
-- I guarantee you digital television will be delivered through these kinds of
mechanisms, and voice communication is going to occur this way, too.
Third is general services -- travel services, information services, financial
Fourth is software -- desktop software itself is going to get a hell of a lot
cheaper. So Microsoft's very basis for their $490 Office [suite of
applications] is at risk, because there's no fundamental reason why that
software has to cost $490. I know companies planning to develop and target
knock-offs of those in Java, delivered as part of a service. You won't be
required to go out and spend $450 or $500 for a piece of software that you
only use 10 percent of. So the software industry is going to go through a
massive change, and that's going to affect us all.
And finally, consumer electronics is going to embrace this technology.
Televisions are going to have built-in Internet interfaces. So when you have
that much of the world economy undergoing transformation, there are some
opportunities in there somewhere.
Q: Microsoft's Sweeper Software Development Kit, which is supposed to be
released later this year, will let developers embed Internet access directly
into applications and tools. Some analysts are saying Sweeper is likely to
make Windows and OLE a compelling challenge to the Java model being created by
Netscape and Sun. Do you buy that?
A: Well, you've got to get the developer world signed up for it, and I would
contend that a large number of developers in the world have to examine whether
they want to develop on the Microsoft platform. We've got 12,000 of them who
say they don't particularly like developing for Microsoft because when they
find a big nugget, Microsoft comes in and takes it away from them by invading
Microsoft is in the content business; they're competitive with every content
company in the world; they're the largest electronic publisher in the world.
They're in the applications business, the network operations business, the
on-line services business, and the operating systems business. Applications
people don't like developing for Microsoft, fundamentally. You name all the
applications companies who have been very successful developing for Microsoft,
and Microsoft has come in later and leveraged their monopoly in the operating
system to compete with them.
So in order to be singularly successful at doing what they're doing, first of
all they have to have something better; secondly, they have to convince those
developers. The world is desperately looking for an alternative to Microsoft.
They don't like the monopolistic practices of that company.
Q: Microsoft has pulled the plug on the MSN-only version of their Blackbird
programming tool. Does their shift away from proprietary content make them a
more formidable competitor?
A: No, I don't think so. That company singularly lines up behind whatever
Bill Gates says. That's a poor way to run a company, my friend -- I've done
it, and it doesn't work very well. You've got to have a lot of minds actively
working, and a process in place that allows the good ideas to come to the top.
If the company had been on the ball, they would have seen the Internet
opportunity when I did. It wasn't hard to see. Instead, they tried to force
MSN down people's throats; they tried to force Blackbird down people's
throats, and essentially tried to be forceful about getting people to adopt
I've talked to companies who've said, "Microsoft comes in and says this is
the way it's going to be, take it or leave it." That's the way they behave. I
can name companies -- I won't, but they're very large worldwide corporations
-- who've said they've been told that by Microsoft. Companies get tired of
that kind of behavior. You've got to be a good citizen if you're going to be a
businessman. It's got to be win-win. For Microsoft, it's a zero-sum game --
they've got to win; no one else does.
Q: Let's switch to Lotus Development Corp., which is devoting a great deal of
attention to dispelling the notion that Lotus Notes will be made obsolete by
the Web. What's your view -- can the Web effectively replace a product like
A: No. I think practically everything in the world is migrating to the
Internet, and Notes will as well -- Lotus is a great company.
The problem with Notes that has been told to us by companies, and a large
part of the reason we brought Collabra Corp., is that companies were saying,
"You're locked in to Notes. Notes only talks to Notes. I can get Notes from
one source. It's too expensive. It's got a lot of things I don't use. Give me
a simpler solution that's open and widely available, that I can get from
We're not making our Collabra stuff proprietary -- we're making the
specifications for that open. Our security system allows anybody to interface
to this system and build a competing product -- that is not true with Notes.
You have to use the Notes security system. They don't have an open
specification -- you can't get certificates for using that except from a Lotus
certificate server. All of those things related to security and the databases
are proprietary. So if they truly want to be competitive with Internet
solutions, they've got to completely open up all of those specifications.
Q: It has been reported that Netscape and America On-Line are negotiating
AOL's licensing of Navigator. What is the status of those negotiations?
A: I don't comment on those kinds of rumors. It's just not appropriate.
Rumors are rumors -- until they're substantiated with an official announcement
from either company, it's a rumor and I don't comment on it.
Q: Speaking hypothetically, then, how keen are you to make licensing deals
with on-line service providers like AOL?
A: Our original mission back in mid-'94 when we started the company, was we
decided the current model of everyone going through a concentrated point to
get access to on-line services is inappropriate. The world is too big a place
for any one, two or three channels of aggregation to be successful.
Nonetheless, there are important groupings that people will want to be
members of -- managed communities, if you will. So there are reasons for
aggregation. But generic aggregation, concentrated among one or two companies,
is not going to be the way the world works -- we founded the company based on
The whole basis for our company was that we're going to make software that
allows anybody to run their own on-line service. And then we're also going to
try to offer that software to the on-line service companies that are now
existent. Prodigy is one of the companies that has licensed our software.
We're more than willing to license it to America On-Line, to CompuServe, to
anybody who wants to run any kind of aggregated content on the Net -- or to
any company that just wants to offer a la carte something on the World Wide
Web. We happen to believe that's the way the model is going to be -- you're
going to use the Internet as a switch to get access to anything throughout the
I'd be happy if America On-Line wanted to be a customer -- I think that would
be terrific. I don't believe working with non-standard software will work.
Content companies told us, "We're tired of developing our content in one
format for America On-Line, another format for CompuServe -- it just won't
work." Content companies gave up on it -- they're going to the Web. They're
going to HTML, and that's where the richness of growth is -- not any
Q: You recently announced a $161 million agreement to buy InSoft Inc., which
makes the CoolView video-conferencing and CoolTalk audio-conferencing
products, so you can integrate that technology with your own for Internet-
based conferencing. What's the time frame for the rollout of those products?
A: I don't think I can really discuss the time frame, although it's fairly
quick because they already had the work done -- that's the reason we acquired
them. I would just say it's as soon as possible -- there are logistical
issues, but a lot of the work has been done, so we think it will be fairly
Q: So is Netscape getting into the business of enabling voice phone calls
over the Internet?
A: I fully expect that to become an increasingly large business, yes. That's
precisely part of what InSoft does -- yes, absolutely. The Internet is
becoming the world's de facto standard communications vehicle, and part of
communications is voice. My instinct is that over the next five to 10 years,
there will be an increasingly large movement: Data communications will have a
higher and higher capacity, and it will surpass the phone system in the number
of bits being transferred around the world. Right now you use the phone for
fax, e-mail -- a lot of things that don't require the real-time connection;
people won't buy that full-time, constant bit-rate connection to send faxes.
That will go to the Internet more quickly than the whole voice communication
system will, but ultimately that will migrate over as well.
Q: The Chinese government has declared its intention to filter out what it
considers to be objectionable material from the Internet. If you were a
consultant for the Chinese government, what technology would you recommend
that they use to do that?
A: A lot of people think that's not possible. It's difficult to enforce, but
it's certainly possible. A corporation has a so-called fire wall -- a single
point of entry into the corporate net. You can have a country that has a
single point of entry into its "country net." It's doable. All you need,
though, is one breach of security, and there's a leak.
A fire wall is a filter -- it filters and doesn't let certain people come in.
You can only come in if you have the right permission. So you could easily
set that up so that it would filter out your objectionable material.
Q: But you're talking about filtering out access, not filtering out information.
A: You could set up a proxy server that operates at the fire wall so that it
doesn't allow certain URLs to come in. There's no way you're going to be able
to automatically tell what is objectionable content -- you can't automatically
tell the difference between an x-rated image and a non- x-rated image.
I don't think it's totally rational to expect to be able to do that because
there are so many ways the Internet can be tapped, since there's no one
organization controlling it.
But the Internet is exactly like the phone system [except that] routers
replace switches. In the phone system you typically have a local monopoly
controlling it, so the switches are located on company property -- it's
impossible to get connected to it unless you get company permission. That's
not true with the Internet -- routers are not all located on any single
company's property. So there are numerous ways to get into it, and all you
need is one connection.
Q: The Chinese government is reported to be searching for this filtering
technology. If they came to you for that technology, would you be able to
A: It exists as standard product. The proxy server, fire walls -- those
things are exactly that. They don't have to go searching -- all they have to
do is go out and buy it. I hate to be revealing something that people wouldn't
like, but that's true. We're not doing anything special to help them, but
we've got standard products that anybody can buy that could be set up to do
that. But it still would require a massive enforcement effort.
Q: What's the toughest problem you've had to tackle so far at Netscape?
A: Growth. I added 200 people in the month of January -- this is hard to
digest. You can't eat a year's worth of food in a day.
Q: What's the toughest problem you expect to face going forward?
A: Probably managing growth -- the same thing. Our product line is getting
sufficiently diverse so that I don't think any single company will have a
severe impact on us. And we probably have the largest list of partners of any
company in history.
Q: What's your assessment of the timing of your IPO? Were you right on?
A: Certainly in terms of the market receptivity we were. I don't think I
would change anything. I spent the first dollar on this company in June of
'94, and by the end of the year I had spent $12 million. I knew we had to put
the pedal to the metal and go grab the market, because it was a golden market
-- that's the reason I spent so much money. It was a huge gamble -- but that's
what entrepreneurship is about.
Don Tennant is editor of Computerworld Hong Kong, an InfoWorld sister publication.
Copyright ( 1996 InfoWorld Publishing Company