Mike Homer dies

Mike Homer, right, with Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, wrote the company’s first business plan as vice president of marketing. (Richard Drew / Associated Press / October 15, 1996)

Mike Homer, a former marketing vice president of Netscape Communications Corp. and a pioneer in the commercial use of the World Wide Web, died Sunday at his home in Atherton, Calif., after a nearly two-year fight against Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. He was 50.

Homer was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a neurodegenerative disorder often referred to as a human form of mad cow disease, after suffering from memory problems in 2007. Doctors don't know how he contracted the disease.

Homer wrote the first business plan for Netscape, which developed Web browser software and later challenged Microsoft Corp. in a battle for Internet users.

"It was a field that was brand new, and there weren't many models," former Netscape Chief Executive James Barksdale said. "He was always quick to see the essence of things, to see if things could work. He was an unforgettable person."

Homer helped conceive marketing campaigns to persuade a skeptical public that the Internet would blossom in 1994, when few had heard of it, said Chris Hempel, co-founder of San Francisco-based Spark Public Relations, who worked with Homer at Netscape.

"People didn't think the Internet would amount to anything," Hempel said. "Netscape paved the way for Google and all these other companies."

Later, Homer worked to convince regulators and courts that Microsoft was using its monopoly power to squeeze out Netscape's browser, she said.

After leaving Netscape in 2000, following its acquisition by America Online Inc., Homer founded streaming-media technology company Kontiki Inc. He sold that business to VeriSign Inc. for $62 million in 2006.

As part of the deal, he donated the right to use Kontiki's technology to the nonprofit Open Media Network so it could be used in public radio and TV, according to a 2008 story in Current, a public-broadcasting trade paper published in New York.

His career included nine years at Apple Inc., where he was the technology advisor to then-Chief Executive John Sculley.

Homer also worked with Intuit Inc. Chairman Bill Campbell, his closest friend, at pen-computing-maker Go Corp. After Go failed to catch on, its main venture-capital backer, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, brought Homer to Netscape, company co-founder Marc Andreessen said.

Homer was born Feb. 24, 1958, in San Francisco. He earned a bachelor's degree at UC Berkeley, then started working at Apple in 1982.

He is survived by his wife, Kristina; three children; his mother; and a sister.