Back in 1994, long before the browser war erupted between Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, a company in Illinois named Spyglass commercially released a browser product called Mosaic. Introduced at a time when most people had never heard of the Internet, Mosaic was heralded as leading-edge technology by industry analysts. But the company today has been overshadowed by the more cash-rich and flashier Netscape and Microsoft, and many in the industry have asked: 'Whatever happened to Spyglass?'
Spyglass founder Tim Krauskopf maintains that his company is still active in the Internet market, but it is taking a low-key approach these days. Krauskopf, who is now Spyglass's vice-president of research and is in charge of the continuing development of Mosaic, visited Hong Kong and Beijing recently to speak at an Asia/Pacific Web Conference.
During his stay in Hong Kong, he talked to IDG's Emily Gin and discussed his company's market strategy, WWW censorship, Netscape, and China's Internet market. Excerpts from the interview follow:
On Spyglass's business approach to the
"If you look at Microsoft Internet Explorer, you will see Spyglass is referenced [as the technology base for IE3]. But in the transition period between 1994 and 1996, the [Internet] stakes and the scale has risen so much. Netscape has over 1,000 people and Microsoft has many thousands of people, and they both have developed distribution channels. We have 150 people today, so the kind of distribution channel and the ability to generate the awareness that a Microsoft can is beyond our reach. [Microsoft] got a Rolling Stones tune for their Windows 95 launch. "When we do our business strategy, we immediately look to those business partners or customers that have the consumer image [awareness]. That is how we ended up licensing [Mosaic] to Microsoft for its Internet Explorer, and to IBM, Computer Associates and Oracle.
"We need those customers to be the names that are in front of [consumers] eyes. Inside the trade, we have been up and down a little, but many industry people know who we are and that we have core Internet technology.
"When the Internet started, the people who knew how to do the technology were, by default, the only names that industry people and consumers knew. But now the Internet has reached such a broad scale. So we made the transition from expecting people to know our name, to expecting them to know our customers' names. And they certainly know our customers' names."
On the sudden success of Netscape:
"The original success after [Netscape's] initial public offering - like a lot of Internet companies, including Spyglass - was over-rated in terms of attention from venture capital and IPOs. Now things are quieting down and Internet companies [are treated] more like other technology companies.
"Netscape, like many companies that are creating a mindshare name for themselves, has a product that can do some amazing things. At the very same time or before they did, we had products that did some very similar exciting things. So, it is difficult to say that the real value of the Web can be overrated. But for one company in the whole mix of WWW to draw all the attention, this may have been more than was necessary. There are a lot of companies and content providers that are really generating the true success of the Web and Netscape is one of them.
"I don't have any investment in taking credit away from Netscape, but I do have a large investment in making sure all the other companies and people that take part in all of this are recognised equally with Netscape. And this includes the World Wide Web Consortium and Tim Berners-Lee [who invented the WWW in 1991 in Geneva] - the people that helped keep the standards together and move them along, because that is important for keeping people's confidence level up."
On censoring content on the WWW in
the Asia/Pacific region:
"Our Pro Server and SurfWatch products provide filtering on the Web, and filtering is obviously an issue for the [Asian] region right now. [Governments in] Singapore and Hong Kong are talking about it. China is looking at it.
"The Communications Decency Act in the US Congress is another example where the government is saying that not everything on the Internet is okay and that there should be something to protect kids in educational situations. That is what our technology grew out of - the ability for parents to protect kids from parts of the WWW.
"Without the technology available, the debate [in the Hong Kong, Singapore and Chinese governments] becomes, 'Should we allow the Internet?' With the appropriate technology available, the debate changes to, 'What are the appropriate ways to use the technology to accomplish our government or civic responsibilities [through the Internet]?' ".
On China's Internet market:
"Hong Kong's [Internet market] is right on the brink of exploding. Other places like China are a little further out there, and the language barrier is obviously a greater hindrance. The number of valuable [Chinese] applications that a person sees on the Web just are not there. Access to worldwide information in [mainland] universities is important for research purposes, but access to worldwide information is not as important for daily life in China as it is in Hong Kong.
"That shows in a slower growth in PC penetration and slower growth for the network establishment so far. These things will all grow together in the next few years. It may still be one to three years before we see widespread Internet usage in China.
"The problem is not so much that people can't find Chinese language content, but that people need to develop an expectation that there should be more content publishers than just the traditional ones.
"Students in universities can put up local-language content and ISPs can put up local-language content for restaurants and department stores. Even local governments could put up content.
"One of the big drivers of the Internet in the United States was the availability of the Library of Congress site and the White House site. That gave people the assurance that the network was not going away and that it had value. Of course a lot of people are nervous [in China] about the filtering aspect and potential negative information, but when several respectable government sites go up, people will have an attitude that the network is definitely good.
"They will say, 'I can get this very important government stuff and there might be some bad stuff, so we will need to filter out the stuff we don't want'.
"But, it is a different decision process from people saying, 'I am not sure what I want and there isn't anybody locally respectable or regionally respectable on the Web, so I won't use it'."