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Nothing But Net


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NOTHING BUT NET

As phenomenal as Netscape Communication's stock market rise is, it's nothing next to the ascent of its 50-year-old founder, James H. Clark. He grew up in poverty in rural Plainview, Tex. Suspended from high school for antics such as sneaking in whiskey on a band trip, he dropped out to join the Navy. There, he discovered electronics.

Armed with a PhD in computer science, he eventually landed a professorship at Stanford University in 1978 and threw himself into research on computer graphics. The result: a set of chips that made computer graphics come alive. But he had a tough time selling to computer companies, so Clark started his own company--and Silicon Graphics Inc. went on to become famous for creating the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.

He butted heads with managers who opposed his desire to make lower-cost machines. So he left, giving up $10 million in SGI stock options. Then he struck gold again after meeting Marc Andreessen--inventor of the pioneering Mosaic software for browsing the World Wide Web--and bet on the Internet. Clark and Andreessen came up with a radical new strategy: Give away Netscape's browser and make money from software that gets companies on the Net. Within months, Netscape's software ruled 75% of the Web, leading to its triumphant initial public offering last August. "Ultimately, the Internet will even subsume the phone network," he says. Arrogance? Maybe. But that's what has made Clark the rarest of entrepreneurs: a two-time winner.By Robert D. Hof in San Francisco


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