How Steve Case Beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads, and Made Millions in the War for the Web

Kara Swisher, Author Crown Business $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8129-2896-9
Through tenacity and brilliant marketing, America Online bested competitors like Prodigy and CompuServe to become the way most Americans reach the Internet, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Swisher's gripping cyber-saga. The author, who has also covered AOL and the Internet for the Washington Post since 1994, conducted interviews with AOL's top executives, among others, and divulges details of AOL's rebuff of a 1993 buyout attempt by billionaire stakeholder Paul G. Allen, a cofounder of Microsoft. Microsoft famously waffled during the Net's infancy, and Allen's better-known partner, Bill Gates, predicted AOL's demise that same year. Then, paradoxically, Gates angled to buy or at least control the floundering company, but AOL bounded back. Chief executive Steve Case relentlessly focused on building ""community"" (via chat rooms and message boards) and unleashed a risky but inspired mailing campaign, a ""carpet-bombing"" of the U.S. with over 250 million free AOL disks for going online with AOL software. Swisher frankly reviews AOL's questionable accounting and billing practices, such as switching customers to higher rates without their consent, as well as customers' manifold grievances, yet he maintains that AOL has mended its ways. Although she admits that ""Steve Case--and by extension--AOL, is so middle-of-the-road, so bland, so vanilla,"" Swisher's account makes the computer wars seem as seductive, treacherous and unpredictable as the Web itself. Author tour. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-8129-3191-4
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