I remember back in the heady days of the Netscape IPO when Marc Andreessen was seen as the child god of the Internet and business publications lapped up everything he said. He represented all that was new, and exciting, and better and faster and more incredibly amazing than the old stuff that came before. Now we can look back and we can say that he was just another CS student that was hacking on an open source project back then, and everything that happened afterward was just an accident of circumstance. By virtue of being rich and famous, he’s had the opportunity to go off on a number of other wild business adventures, seemingly in hopes of proving that all the good things that happened to him back in the early days really were just in accident.
It’s not that I have anything against guys who go from being everyday soldiers in the software development trenches to being rock stars seemingly overnight. Take Linus Torvalds for example. Despite the fact that he’s never cashed in in a nine digit sort of way (at least that I know of), he is perhaps the most famous software developer in the world (at least of those that are still actually programming), and he’s also an insightful and articulate spokesman not just on matters concerning the Linux kernel, but on just about everything else he’s asked about as well.
Contrast that with Marc Andreessen. For some reason, journalists still like to ask him about browsers, even though the last browser he contributed real code to really is ages old in terms of that “Internet time” thing that Netscape people used to love to talk about. Here’s what he had to say to Reuters on the topic of browser innovation:
“There hasn’t been any innovation on the browser in the last five years. And five years from now there won’t be any changes,” Andreessen told Reuters on Tuesday.
“Navigation is an embarrassment. Using bookmarks and back and forth buttons — we had about eighteen different things we had in mind for the browser.”
There’s no question that browser innovation languished after Microsoft cut off Netscape’s air supply and decided that it was bad business to spend lots of money improving something you give away, right up until Mozilla 1.0 was released. (Well, actually until some of the pre-releases were released, but whatever.) Between Mozilla, and Firebird, and Safari, and Opera, right now we’re in a veritable second renaissance of browser innovation, as most people reading this probably already know.
In any case, there are any number of open source browsers out there upon which he could flesh out any one of the eighteen different things “they” had in mind. Heck, a couple of them are produced by his former coworkers. Perhaps he could shoot one of them an email with these revolutionary ideas, although I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re the ones who came up with them in the first place and the former wunderkind is just passing on second hand information that makes for a good sound bite in an interview with a journalist more clueless than he is.