the netscape dorm.
© 1994-1996 Jamie Zawinski <jwz@jwz.org>


Here are some excerpts from my diary during the first few months of the existence of Netscape Communications (All Praise the Company), back when we were still called Mosaic. Back when there were only 20 or 30 of us, instead of however-many thousands of people there are today. Back before we had any middle managers.

This is the time period that is traditionally referred to as ``the good old days,'' but time always softens the pain and makes things look like more fun than they really were. But who said everything has to be fun? Pain builds character. (Sometimes it builds products, too.)

So you want to go work for a startup? Perhaps this will serve as a cautionary tale...

Tuesday, 26 July 1994, 4am.

I've been working here at Mosaic for a month and a half now, and I haven't been sleeping much, or even going home very often.

Lou and Rob spent all day today building remote control cars. This was kind of annoying, since I and all the others were working out butts off, and they were just screwing around all day. I wandered over to Chouck's cube and said, ``so is this car thing annoying you?'' He reached his arms wide, scrunched up his face, and said ``Only about this much.'' I nodded, and went back to my desk.

Ten minutes later he came over and asked, ``So does it annoy you too, or were you just wondering whether it annoyed me because I'm so easily annoyed?'' I said that it annoyed me, but probably a tiny bit less than it did him.

At around 4pm, Lou was packing up and preparing to go home, when he mentioned to me that Marc had called him in to his office and asked if he had enough work to do. I'd been wondering that myself, so I asked, ``Well, do you?'' He said that he had just been feeling really burnt out for the last few days, and needed to relax. This is completely understandable, but I said that maybe it would be better if he were to do his relaxing away from the office, instead of doing it right in everyone's face while they were working.

Marc wants me to be done with the Unix client in time for SGI to ship it along with Irix 5.3. That means that it has to be rock solid in, like, less than two months. I've got so little of the code written that I don't even have a sense yet of whether that's even remotely possible; it's all over the floor. We've got bits and pieces, but I don't see the big picture. It'd be really easy to let him bully me into agreeing, but I don't want to miss; the stakes are too high this time, too many people are watching us for us to be able to screw up at all...

Thursday, 28 July 1994, 11pm.

I slept at work again last night; two and a half hours curled up in a quilt underneath my desk, from 11am to 1:30pm or so. That was when I woke up with a start, realizing that I was late for a meeting we were scheduled to have to argue about colormaps and dithering, and how we should deal with all the nefarious 8-bit color management issues. But it was no big deal, we just had the meeting later. It's hard for someone to hold it against you when you miss a meeting because you've been at work so long that you've passed out from exhaustion.

Sunday, 5 August 1994, 5am.

I just got home; the last time I was asleep was, let's see, 39 hours ago. And I'm not even tired right now. I guess I'm on my second or third or eighteenth wind. I only came home because I was worried that if I stayed there any longer, I'd fall asleep at the wheel again. I didn't want to stay down there for another night, because I really need a shower at this point; it was a hot day today, and Lou and I played some intense games of air hockey last night that got me all sweaty and disgusting.

Wow, I must be tired -- I just turned on the television, and MTV is actually moving too fast for me to understand it.

I've had a sore throat and a cough for about a week now, but I haven't done anything about it, because I don't have time. I think I'm keeping myself from getting a cold by sheer force of will.

On friday, which is when I most recently woke up, I got to work at around three, and had a ton of email waiting, all work related. And we had an all-hands meeting 4pm, and everyone wanted to come talk to me at once before then, so I was feeling really overwhelmed and behind. I mean, I had only been away from the office for like seven hours! The meeting was another mind-blower; apparently we closed some kind of OEM deal (I forget with who) for like 600,000 seats of the client. Gag. I actually get the feeling that our sales and marketing people know what they're doing! I've never gotten that feeling from them at any previous job. This is wild.

Six hundred thousand people is more than any software I've ever worked on has come anywhere near. I'm completely terrified.

The company is finally putting a web server online soon, so one of the content guys asked us to make home pages for ourselves. I scribbled down a few of the weirder dreams I've had, and put up my bookmarks. Maybe I'll have time to do something more clever later.

My hands have been really been hurting lately; I hope all this typing hasn't finally blown out my wrists. If I can't type, my life is over. My right hand especially is flaking out -- the last knuckle of the middle two fingers ache, as if they're badly bruised. I guess it's time to figure out how to use our medical program. As if a doctor is going to tell me something other than ``stop typing so much.'' Ha ha ha, that's a good one.

A week or two ago we all sat around and tried to think up a name for the client; we can't call it Mosaic, because that's the name of the company. The marketroids had all kinds of silly suggestions like Cyber this and Power that and blah-blah Ware. Then someone said something about crushing NCSA Mosaic, and I blurted out ``Mozilla!'' Everyone seemed to like that, so I think that might end up being the official name of the browser.

There's finally an Indy on my desk instead of a Sun4. This means that I also have an IndyCam, so I hacked up a script to grab and save a frame of me sitting there every five minutes. What have I've learned from this?

Thursday, 11 August 1994, 2am.

I saw Ian today, for the first time in months. His first words were, ``Wow, you look like shit.'' He says I seem really strung-out and twitchy. I thought I had been doing ok! I got a full night's sleep last night and everything. I have no life. I never see any of my non-work friends, and I'm wasting away my one and only youth. I ought to be out doing fun things and active things, the kind of things I won't be able to do when my mind and body finally decay. But instead I'm stuck inside under fluorescent lights, pushing bits around inside a computer in ways that are only interesting to other nerds. I glanced at a movie listing and there are movies out that I haven't even heard of. How did that happen? That freaks me out.

I bought some wrist braces at a drug store, and I've been typing with them for a couple of days. I don't think it's helping much; my middle finger doesn't hurt quite as much, but my ring finger is just as bad. This job is destroying my body. This can't be worth it.

Friday, 26 August 1994, 1am.

I've just read over some of my diary for the last few months, and man, a lot of it is completely incoherent! It's full of incomplete sentences, made up words, random surreal imagery that I can't even understand let alone remember typing. Have I been typing in my sleep? I hope I don't sound like that in person. I wonder what my code must look like! Oh well, it seems to work.

I left work at about 9:30, because Eric and Susan called and talked me into going to see Natural Born Killers with them. I'd been at work for 31 hours, with maybe 4 hours of sleep scattered in here and there while waiting for compiles to finish, but they had already bought me a ticket for the 10:30 show, how could I say no? I said, ``I'm exhausted, but you're right, I need see a movie.'' Susan said, ``are you sure? We could do this some other time.'' ``No,'' I said, ``I'm burning twice as brightly, I have to do this sort of thing.'' It's a corny Blade Runner reference, but it just popped right out of my mouth. (I'm not sure I like the implications of it, actually.)

NBK was a completely amazing movie. I think it was very nearly perfect. Little plot, very disjoint, and fascinating visuals every step of the way. Every second in the first hour was beautiful, and most of the second hour as well. It was pure ultraviolence, even more over-the-top than A Clockwork Orange. I was grinning about it for hours, and Susan was just stunned -- she said she felt like she had been beaten about the head for two hours. When we got back to their place she went rummaging through their cabinets for alcohol, finally coming up with a bottle of bourbon; ``I need something to numb it down,'' she explained.

Sunday, 28 August 1994.

Mozilla is actually starting to smell like a product; maybe we're not doomed after all. When I got to work today, the gang was sitting down to watch Repo Man on laserdisc. I heartily approve, and I didn't even feel that guilty for blowing off a couple of hours to watch it.

Lou is all stressed out because Kathy kissed him yesterday. I think he's nervous about dating the boss's daughter. He's all knotted up inside about her; relationships will do that to you. But someone pointed out that lack of sleep will do that to you, too. We had a long talk about relationships today, where we traded war stories and compared scars. Here's a great snippet of a conversation we had about one of his previous girlfriends:

He's a real pro, that one. Fabio could take lessons.

Friday, 9 September 1994, 1am.

We sent a copy of Mozilla to SGI today, for a handful of people to beat on. This the big moment when they decide whether we're in or out, whether they ship it with Irix 5.3, or tell us to get lost. Tomorrow they're going to do install an internal beta release on two thousand machines. I think that as of today, maybe five people besides me have ever used the Unix version.

Oh, I just found out that my picture was in this month's Wired, which has a gushing article about us. I look like a complete dork. I can just hear mom's reaction: ``What have you done to your hair? You look like a complete dork.''

Saturday, 17 September 1994, 2pm.

If I hear someone imitate Beavis and Butthead one more time...

Wednesday, 21 September 1994, 7pm.

Today we were having some argument in email about something or other, and a while later Aleks and I were chatting in person, and he said that he thought I'd been picking on Lou a lot lately. I didn't think I had been, so I sent this message:

One of my friends asked me if any of my coworkers had had anything to say about that, or if they were all just non-confrontational nerds who would go home and whine at their friends about how difficult I am. I was happy to report that my coworkers are far from non-confrontational, and that we scream at each other all the time. It's one of the few things that makes this place bearable, that we're able to vent. However, this wasn't a great example of that, since the only responses I got were a halfhearted ``fuck you too'' sort of reply, and one that said, ``you forgot to cross-post that to alt.fan.jwz.''

I ate like a pound of goldfish crackers today. What was I thinking.

Saturday, 24 September 1994, 5pm.

We had one of those ``we're going to win big'' meetings today, where Jim and Marc wave their arms a lot and say ``these are not the droids you're looking for,'' and we all sit there and nod enthusiastically and grin and say ``these are not the droids we're looking for.'' I like those meetings, because they're so convincing. They make me feel like maybe I haven't been wasting my time. You need someone like Marc around to overcome the soul-sucking blackness that sets in when you've agreed to impossible goals.

I've been working, trying to beat this accursed Unix client into shape, and everyone else has been dipping into the corporate beer supply. You know, I spend basically every waking hour with these guys, and I think we get along remarkably well, considering, but it's really starting to wear thin. Add alcohol, and they all get Extra Special Annoying.

11pm.
Well the kids went out to get drunk, or rather, more drunk. I think they might have actually gone out to a strip club again. How classy is that?

3am.
Oh good, the kids are back, and they are well hammered. None of them can walk properly, and they keep bumping into the cubicle walls and making everything on my desk shake. Since I'm not drunk, the impedance mismatch makes it impossible for me to carry on a conversation with them, so I'm just trying to block them out. But now they're all playing networked DOOM at top volume, so in order to concentrate, I have to wear headphones with music on at top volume, and even that doesn't quite work. Since, as I mentioned, they keep making the mistake of trying to walk, and they're making all the shit on my desk bounce around.

It's a saturday night, and I'm in my cubicle surrounded by a bunch of drunken farmboys from Illinois who haven't been more than two miles from our office in scenic downtown Mountain View in four months.

My ears are going to be ringing after this. Fuck it, I'm going home. (Check that -- my ears are ringing.)

Wednesday, Tuesday, who the fuck knows.
Some time in September, really really late at night.

We're doomed.

We've finally announced a public beta to the net, and there are loads of bugs, and they're hard bugs, sucky, hardware-dependent ones. Some of our private beta testers crash at startup on some SunOS 4.1.3 systems, and I've got what seems like an identical system here and it doesn't crash. And scrolling text doesn't work with the OpenWindows X server, though it works fine elsewhere. And the cache is still fucked. We're doomed.

And while agonizing about this on the way home at 1am on an empty freeway, I forgot to keep an eye out for cops, and got a speeding ticket. I was going 80, and he actually wrote me up for 80, the bastard. Since that's more than 20 over the limit, I think the fine print says that that means I have to go to court. I don't have time for this shit!

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
Doomed doomed doomed doomed doomed.

I'm tempted to just stay home tomorrow. I'm so fucking burnt. Existence is suffering.

We had another fashion shoot today, with about ten of us. We did it outside at the civic center, and I think the photographer was pretty annoyed at us. Nobody was very into it at all, especially Middlefinger.

We're doomed.

I'd work on my resumé, but I don't even have anything new to put on it yet, because we haven't actually shipped anything.

I'm going to go home and cry myself to sleep now.

Friday, 7 October 1994, 6am.

We go live on the net in four days.

I no longer think we're doomed. I think we're going to rock all over. It's still pretty scary, though.

I went to the Halloween store that sprouted up around the corner, and got a cool giant troll mask that I mounted on a cardboard tube next to my cubicle door. It goes well with all the duct tape and grainy photocopied blow-ups.

Today there was a reporter here from the LA Times; she interviewed all of us, and wandered around with Rosanne in tow, to do spin control. Rosanne was really concerned about here finding any confidential info, so the whole thing was kind of weird. From the questions she asked, we were guessing that it was going to be another fluff piece about personalities. She seemed to be digging for dirt, and the technical aspects have pretty much been beaten to death; could anyone really be interested in writing about them again?

They took pictures. She said it would be out in a few weeks, either on the front page of the business section, or the main front page. Yow.

CNN is coming in on monday to film a demo. CNN! Man.

Chouck was in an incredibly pissy mood today, worse than usual. I made some joke about the fact that he doesn't like having his picture taken and he went ballistic.

Monday, 10 October 1994, 5pm.

Well today has been more than a little bit frustrating. The details don't really matter (what does!), but I've spent most of the day so stressed out that my skull is rattling from the pressure of my teeth grinding together. I feel like I have finally exceeded my stress limits and am about blow a gasket. But I can't go home, because if I do, the world will end, right? I'm trying to work, but every few minutes I have to stop typing and make fists so tightly that my whole body shakes.

Cubicles have no doors to slam. I've been alternately chugging Coca Cola and Pepto Bismol. It's not helping.

Some email from Laura says, ``You are rapidly approaching meltdown. Get out now.'' She told me that I need to go Coot Chasing. Apparently there's an open space preserve north of Shoreline and SGI, and at the end of a twisty road is a lake. Around this lake are hordes of little black birds called coots. They run around on the mud flat on little half-webbed feet, and when you chase them, their feet make a phup phup phup noise. And if you get them really agitated, they oink, like little black feathered piggies.

``It is,'' she promises, ``the funniest fucking thing.''

Coots know how to live. I wish I were a coot.

Mr. Wizard, I think I'd rather be a coot than a hacker. Yeah, sure, every now and then a giant pink-haired ape would come running after me and chase me into the lake, but really, could it be that much worse? I'd have a tiny little brain and wouldn't be expected to worry about anything.

They bought us Indian food for dinner today. I hate Indian food. I think I'm getting an ulcer.

Wednesday, 12 October 1994, 11am.

It is two days later and I am still at the office. I did not go and chase coots. There is too much work to do. I want to die.

We're releasing Mozilla 0.9 today. I just finished doing the builds on six different Unix platforms, and of course, we discovered show-stoppingly disastrous bugs at 9am. We have fixed the bugs, and stared at the changes long and hard, and I'm in the process of rebuilding all of the binaries now. They should be done in about a half an hour, and they will be on the FTP server less than an hour after that.

This is, of course, insane.

Laura says that if we've only got an hour between building and shipping, then I must have been right all along: we are in fact well and truly doomed. She says that if I leave now, I can probably get a good head start before they realize that I'm gone.

I forwarded her ``well and truly doomed'' paragraph to my manager, and he came in and yelled at me.

6pm.
I'm still here. We got a slight reprieve, as everyone agreed to delay the release to midnight. People started testing my new builds at 1:50pm, which is when I went to sleep.

midnight.

The power came back on, and we put the damnable program on the FTP server, and two million people all started attempting to download it at once, before we had even posted the announcement message, and we're done done done and I suppose now we can all live happily ever after.

We sat in the conference room and hooked up the big TV to one of the Indys, so that we could sit around in the dark and watch the FTP download logs scroll by. jg hacked up an impromptu script that played the sound of a cannon shot each time a download successfully completed. We sat in the dark and cheered, listening to the explosions.

Four hours later, the Wall Street Journal was delivered, and it already contained an article describing what we had just done. ``Clients aren't where the money is anyway,'' ran the quote from Marc.

I'd go home now if I thought I could drive there without dying, so instead I'm going to curl up under my desk again and sleep here.

Maybe we're not doomed; people on the net are talking about Mozilla with all caps and lots of exclamation points. They're actually excited about it...

I've just noticed that there's still purple ink on the inside of my right wrist spelling the word VOID: the hand-stamp from a concert that I went to last week. I left work, went to the show, and came back to work immediately afterwards. I've been here since.


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