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Andreessen was born in 1971 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and grew up in New Lisbon, Wisconsin. His father was a seed salesman for the Pioneer Seed company, and his mother was an employee of Land's End, a company that sells clothing through mail-order catalogs.
Andreessen received his Bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. As an undergraduate, he interned one summer at IBM in Austin, Texas. He also worked at the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications, where he became familiar with ViolaWWW created by Pei-Yuan Wei, which itself was based on Tim Berners-Lee's open standards for the World Wide Web. These earlier browsers had been created to work only on expensive Unix workstations, so Andreessen and a full-time salaried co-worker Eric Bina worked on creating an improved and user-friendlier version with integrated graphics that would work on personal computers. The resulting code was the Mosaic web browser. Andreessen was fastidious in monitoring and responding to all user comments for suggestions and improvements to the browser, which fueled its accessibility and its popularity.
After his graduation from the university in 1993, Andreessen moved to California to work at Terisa Systems, a subsidiary of Enterprise Integration Technologies. Andreessen then met with Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics. Clark had been unhappy with the upper management at Silicon Graphics, and was looking to invest in other opportunities. Clark believed that the Mosaic browser had great commercial possibilities and provided the seed money. Soon Mosaic Communications Coporation was in business in Mountain View, California, with Andreessen appointed as a vice-president. The University of Illinois was unhappy with the use of the Mosaic name, so Mosaic Communications changed its name to Netscape Communications, and its flagship web browser was the Netscape Navigator.
Netscape's IPO in 1995 propelled Andreessen into the public's imagination. Featured on the cover of People magazine and other publications, Andreessen became the poster-boy wunderkind of the Internet bubble generation that would repeat itself over and over: young, twenty-something, high-tech, ambitious, and worth millions (or billions) of dollars practically overnight.
Unfortunately, the IPO put Netscape on Microsoft's radar. Bill Gates and his employees re-examined Tim Berners-Lee's original vision of the World Wide Web, and realized that a stand-alone browser was a mistake. Berners-Lee had envisoned a ubiquitous web that would blur the distinction between files on a user's computer (the desktop) and files on the rest of the Internet. Thus, a stand-alone client browser was only a temporary interim solution. Microsoft sought to integrate the client browser into its operating system, and to save time, licensed the original Mosaic source code from Spyglass Technologies, an offshoot of the University of Illinois. Microsoft's resulting product was Internet Explorer, which was distributed as the stand alone browser bundled in every copy of Windows 95.
Netscape Communications had planned on deriving most of its revenue from its server software, priced between $5,000 (non-secure server) and $25,000 (secure server), rather than from its client browsers, which were distributed for free in beta form. A commercial version was available for around $40, but for most people on the Web, the beta versions were good enough. With sales of client browsers at a low, and the ascedancy of Microsoft's Web Servers and the free Apache_HTTP_Server, Netscape was unable to generate enough revenue to sustain itself. AOL acquired Netscape in 1999, and Andreessen became its Chief Technology Officer.
But the original enthusiasm and excitement had faded away, and he would soon leave to form LoudCloud, a services-based Web hosting company that also underwent an IPO. LoudCloud changed its name to Opsware in 2002.