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Netscape, SGI Founder James Clark Shares the Secrets of His Success

By Kwong H. Yung

Netscape Communications Corporation Founder and Chief Executive Officer James Clark spoke yesterday before a packed audience in 26-100.

The talk, part of the Laboratory of Computer Science Distinguished Lecture Series, featured Clark's outlook on how the Internet has impacted society, together with the story of his success.

The Internet has transformed a largely telephone-based society to a "data-net" society, said Clark, who is also founder and former chairman of Silicon Graphics Inc.

Clark identified four business sectors most influenced by the World-Wide Web: telecommunications, media industries, information services, and consumer electronics. In the consumer electronics industry, Clark said that a television Internet browser will soon transform the television into an valuable information agent.

Still, Clark feels strongly that a web browser terminal will not replace the PC. "Bill Gates is not shaking in his boots," he joked in a reference to the Microsoft Chairman and CEO. "Will someone buy both a PC and a browser terminal? I don't know," he said.

Clark also addressed Netscape's competition with Microsoft, especially in light of the software giant's recent move to license its browser as the default browser to both America Online and Compuserve.

"Microsoft is a little desperate right now because they don't have control," Clark said. "And they don't know how to behave when they don't have control," he said, drawing laughter from the audience.

"Microsoft is a great company, but no single company can dominate in an open market in all areas and for all times," Clark added.

Netscape has become the most widely used web browser on the Internet, capturing 80 percent of the market.

Clark shares secrets of success

Clark also offered some advice for the up-and-coming. "Be intensely focused and committed. Have integrity and treat others right," Clark said.

Clark spent part of his life in academia. As an associate professor at Stanford University, he decided that "you just got to go do things." So he implemented his creation - the geometry engine - as the basis for Silicon Graphics.

Instead of assuming the CEO title, Clark initially became chairman so that he could concentrate on technological innovation. Although Silicon Graphics grew to become a success, he was not happy that it produced only high-end hardware.

After 12 years with Silicon Graphics, Clark decided to resign from the board of directors and leave behind $16 million worth stock options.

As he was leaving, a friend referred him to then-University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student Mark Andressen. Together they decided to create Mozilla, the "Mosaic killer" that eventually became the Netscape Navigator.

Clark realized his own scientific and engineering skills after joining the U.S. Navy and developed it at Navy electronics school.

Clark went on to complete a bachelors and masters degree in physics. But instead of completing a PhD in physics, Clark decided to earn a PhD in computer science from the University of Utah. He later held academic positions at the University of California at Santa Cruz and later at Stanford, before leaving academia to enter business.