Special Report -- Silicon Valley -- The Next Generation
ONLINE ORIGINAL: MIKE McCUE
Few people know Michael S. McCue's name, but anybody who surfs the Net using Netscape Communications Corp.'s new Communicator browser knows his work. McCue, 29, is one of the Internet phenom's top visionaries. It's his job to help Netscape
transform the face of computing to match the wide-open possibilities of the World Wide Web -- and thus to try to keep Microsoft Corp. at bay.
To do that, McCue helped invent Netcaster, a program that promises to turn the personal computer into more of a broadcast tool. It's just one of many such Internet "push" technologies, including one form Microsoft, but McCue wants to go way beyond simply sending out news and advertisements. Ultimately, he wants Netcaster, coupled with Netscape's Web "server" software, to let PC users create personalized screens for organizing data from the Internet, corporate intranets, and their own hard drives. By storing that data and screen setup on centralized servers, they'll see the same information and work with it the same way no matter what computer they're using; no more shuttling of files via a floppy disk among home, office, and notebook PCs.
McCue's ultimate game, of course, is to make Netscape's network-based software a formidable alternative to Microsoft's Windows -- before the software giant can rework Windows to function better with the Internet and intranets. "They're essentially taking the Internet and putting it into the desktop -- very '80s," he sneers. "We're doing the exact opposite" -- starting with the Net's standards and using them to make computing easier and more flexible.
McCue came to Netscape early last year when the company acquired Paper
Software Inc., a Woodstock (N.Y.) software developer, from McCue and 11 others and moved the tiny company to its Mountain View (Calif.) headquarters. He had started Paper in 1989 with the idea of making the PC screen as easy and flexible to use as a sheet of paper. No businessman, he soon ran out of money and spent the next summer replenishing his funds by digging ditches and building houses, then doing software design consulting for a company that was contracted to drugmaker Merck & Co. Paper's first product, Sidebar, was a set of icons that McCue says combined the best of the Mac and Windows to make using a computer more intuitive. After discovering Mosaic, the pioneer Web browser that predated Netscape's, he started applying his ideas to 3-D graphics and the Net -- which is what interested Netscape.
Despite his upbringing in the Hudson River Valley, McCue is a programmer in the classically obsessive Silicon Valley tradition. He lives in a still-unfurnished poolhouse. His red HumVee was impounded for a month after he forgot to get his California driver's license within the required time. And he generally eats nothing but a single microwaved frozen pizza per day. In his little spare time, he likes to climb rocks, practice kung fu, and compose classical music on the piano as a form of meditation. "I severely neglect all personal responsibilities," he says. He's single.
A self-taught nerd, he didn't attend college at all. In high school, he got hooked on computers, writing a lot of video games, some of which he sold to game companies. Hoping to be an astronaut, McCue had been accepted to the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colo., but instead joined IBM as a six-month temporary worker and ended up staying three-and-a-half years before founding Paper.
Longer-term, McCue thinks that operating system software, applications, and content will lose their boundaries, and at an accelerating pace as the Net becomes more pervasive. Within a few years, he predicts, "everything will be delivered through the Net. The Net will become an even more core part of people's everyday experience." And that, he hopes, will make Netscape as much a household word as Microsoft.By Robert D. Hof in Mountain View, Calif.