Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, addressing a Linux user group in San Jose, says that the combination of Navigator 5.0 and Linux could be a fatal blow to Windows. Netscape used Linux as its model when it decided to release the source code to Communicator/Navigator 5.0 for free: Linux is a free UNIX clone that runs on Intel and PowerPC computers.

"Everywhere I go, I find myself sitting across a table from someone who uses Windows at work and Linux at home," Andreessen said. "With the huge amount of energy behind it, it's only a matter of time before it makes a huge impact."

Andreessen said that Netscape was making Linux a "total reference platform", elevating it to the same status as Windows and the Macintosh. As such, Netscape will now develop all of its products for Linux.

He did admit, however, that Linux still has some problems to overcome before it can surpass Windows NT. Linux isn't very scalable and doesn't have a consistent, easy user interface or any consumer software. Andreessen says the Communicator 5.0 "Mozilla" interface can solve at least part of the problem.

Andreessen says that Linux is the only non-Microsoft operating system that is gaining marketshare. Of course, this sudden focus on Linux leaves the company's alliance with Sun Microsystems in doubt. Sun makes a high-priced UNIX variant called Solaris that runs on Intel and Sun Sparc systems, but it has very little marketshare. Andreessen says Sun will needed to eventually embrace the free source code model if it is to retain its 50% share of the UNIX market.

"We should talk Sun into reaching the proper level of enlightenment, or there should be a replacement," he said