By Anya Sacharow

Patrick Naughton, the 32-year-old president of Starwave, did not invent Java. But he takes responsibility for its initiation and development. ‘The project existed because I was making it happen,’ Naughton says. He can be granted a little arrogance, because Java is no small thing. The software language built by a handful of Sun employees now aspires to be the lingua franca of the Web.

Naughton was speaking in code from the age of 16, when he bought an Atari 400 for $388 with dishwashing money. As a computer prodigy in Rochester, N.Y., he wrote learned to write software from books. While in college at Clarkson, he devised clones of Macintosh user interfaces for the PC, for which Zenith paid him $30,000. Back then he didn’t go to Microsoft. ‘That was my biggest mistake ever, because I guess if I did, I’d be one of these guys living on the lakefront,’ he says. ‘But I didn’t think they were that great.’ He later sent a resume to Microsoft, only to get a form-letter rejection. ‘Java could have happened at Microsoft had that letter gotten to the right person,’ he quips. The day after graduation, he went to work for Sun.

Developing the first version of Java consumed him from 1991 to 1993. During that time Naughton changed from ‘a stay-up-all-night, drink-a-lot-of-Pepsi programmer into trying to talk to people and explain the technology,’ he recalls. In the fall of 1994, after turning down a top technology job at Viacom, Naughton went to Starwave. At the time, Paul Allen’s multimedia publishing house was producing CD-ROMs and talking to America Online, Interchange and the Microsoft Network. ‘Their online efforts were ambitious yet misguided,’ Naughton says. So he brought them Java, his own team of engineers and plenty of ideas for the Web.

As president of Starwave, Naughton has to oversee relationships among Allen, new investor Disney Co. and its properties like ESPN and ABC, which will launch in the next few weeks. Naughton denies the Web rumors that described him as unhappy underneath the bigger corporate umbrella. He has a four-year contract with Starwave, and he expects the backing of Disney to lead to nothing less than Web domination.

‘We have the capability to create the destination which contains everything someone could want,’ he says. ‘A visit to the Internet could be just Starwave sites. It’s the brand power that we have.’

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