Wall Street in the grip of techno-frenzy

Netscape is going to be the Microsoft of the Internet - or so investors hope.

The spectacular stock market debut of Netscape Communications has instantly rocketed the small California-based company to the same value that it took General Dynamics Corp 43 years to achieve. For a company that has not returned a cent of profit in its 16 month life, the launch underscored the technology frenzy that is gripping the stock markets.

The rush to commercialise and profit from the still formative Internet has created a frenzy not seen since the early days of personal computing. Netscape issued 5 million shares to the public and kept another 33 million for executives, venture capitalists and other early backers.

With an instant value of $2.4bn Netscape was the most successful offer of its size in the history of Wall Street, recalling the opening of Genentech in 1980, which started at $35 and finished at $71 on its first day. "The perception is this is a unique company - that Netscape is going to be the Microsoft of the Internet," said Roger McNamee, a money manager at Integral Capital Partners. "And everybody wants to own the next Microsoft."

The Netscape software allows users of personal computers to point-and- click their way around the Internet's World Wide Web, a colourful maze of text, sound and images stored in the thousands of computers around the world. Its revolutionary simplicity for users is, according to one expert, "a palatable interface that allows a significant change in the communicative structure of the planet".

If, as many believe, Netscape's technology to access the Internet is as timely as Bill Gates' Microsoft's word-processing and operating software was 10 years ago, then chairman James Clark's instant $556m fortune and the 24-year-old creator of the programme, Marc Andreessen's $58m, will grow effortlessly upward to the $13bn that Mr Gates is reported to be worth.

As founder of Silicon Graphics, James Clark parlayed an idea for a three- dimensional computer into a $1.5bn company. He branched out in 1994, frustrated at the company's unwillingness to invest in equipment for the information highway. He teamed up with Mr Andreessen, a graduate of the University of Illinois who had developed a precursor to Netscape called Mosaic.

Marc Andreesson is the picture of a computer "techie". Six feet five inches tall, he wears shorts to work, never bothers to decorate his apartment, and likes gourmet beers. According to Mosaic co-creator Eric Bina, "he always wanted a job in which he would be locked in a room with all the newspapers, magazines and access to the networks".

"He was this kind of galoofy looking character," recalls Mr Clark. "I didn't have a clue what was in his head."

Growing up in Wisconsin, Marc Andreessen said in an interview earlier this summer that his vision for Netscape Navigator was born of "sheer boredom". He turned to computers for stimulation and by the age of nine he was programming video games and, as a college undergraduate, first "surfed the net".

He worked throughout the day last Wednesday - the day that the company's stock offering rocketed to $2bn - recalling his 21st birthday when he had one drink and went back to work.

His current ambitions run to a two-tone pick-up truck with flames over the wheels. "There are 300 garages in Silicon Valley right now where people are working away while I'm having coffee. If we slow down, somebody's going to eat our lunch, " he said.

Marc Andreessen, however, is less than happy with some of the comparisons to Bill Gates. "Some people do not mean it as a compliment. They think I'm the next Satan," he says.

Netscape's chief executive of seven months, James Barksdale, has made a paper $244m on his 4.2 million shares, and after Wednesday is being celebrated as the new Gates.

As a leader he inspires loyalty with his idiosyncratic banter. One executive recalls him barking at employees: "If I tell people chickens can pull trains, it's their job to hook 'em up."

However some investment managers say that the Netscape offer will see an end to the frantic market in technology.

"It's just another wildly expensive technology stock," said William Fleckenstein of Olympic Capital Management in Seattle after the launch. "The Internet is where your imagination can run wildest."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life