Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, perhaps still stinging after losing to Microsoft in the browser wars in the mid-1990s, may be looking to get back into the browser game.
Citing unnamed sources, the New York Times reported Friday that Andreessen is investing in RockMelt, a company developing a new browser to compete with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and others in a market that is once again competitive after being locked up by IE for many years.
Little is known about RockMelt, and the company is keeping a very low public profile. According to the Times, Eric Vishria and Tim Howes are the founders of the company, but the home page of which says very little about it. Vishria and Howes used to work with Andreessen at Opsware, which was purchased by Hewlett-Packard in 2007. Andreessen now serves on boards at several Silicon Valley companies, including eBay and Facebook, and invests in new ventures.
In an email via Facebook, on which both he and Howes have profiles, Vishria politely declined to comment, but did not outright deny Andreessen's investment in RockMelt. "Unfortunately we are way too early to comment on any of it," he wrote.
Both of their Facebook profiles show toy action figures wearing shirts with the RockMelt logo, but do not show any public information about the company. RockMelt also has its own Facebook page, but there is no useful information there about what the company is developing. In the "About RockMelt" section of the page, it says only, "Large device used to incinerate rocks."
Netscape Navigator — released by Andreessen and cofounder Jim Clark's Netscape company — was the first mainstream Internet browser used to access the web in the early 1990s, but its dominance was short-lived. Microsoft released IE as part of its Windows OS in 1995, and eventually that became the de facto standard. IE prompted the now-infamous browser wars and antitrust cases in the U.S. and Europe, and until a few years ago retained more than 90 percent market share.
The introduction in 2004 of the open-source Mozilla Firefox browser — ironically an offshoot of the remnants of Netscape, which was sold to and later abandoned by AOL — changed the game with innovations like tabbed browsing that have now become industry standard. But perhaps even more importantly, Firefox took market share from IE and prompted a new wave of competition in the market, leaving room for new companies to enter.
Microsoft rival and search giant Google even came out with its own browser, Chrome, last year, and is planning a desktop OS of the same name to compete with Windows on low-cost PCs. The Chrome OS is based on the concept of using a browser to access Web-based applications for everyday tasks like e-mail and word processing, another emerging trend that is raising the profile of browser software.