COMPUTER WHIZ KID MAY BE THE NEXT BILL GATES
I He's Blake Ross, 19, from Miami, Fla., a child prodigy who has created a revolutionary new Web browser called, "Firefox" that could change the way the world surfs the Web. Right now, Microsoft has a virtual monopoly on Internet browser software. Nearly every computer in the world - around 700 million - is loaded with Internet Explorer, the program that enables a computer to visit different Web sites. But since Firefox's debut in November, nearly 20 million people have downloaded the new Web browser, which is considerably faster and less prone to pop-up ads and viruses than Internet Explorer. "It's Microsoft's worst nightmare," said one high-tech insider.
INTERN AT NETSCAPE
Already, the I.T. (information technology) department at Pennsylvania State University has switched all of its computers to Firefox and more institutions are expected to follow. Incredibly, Blake wrote the lightning-fast program at 17, while working as a lowly paid intern at Netscape in California. Netscape had developed a browser to rival Internet Explorer, but it was relatively slow and loaded with unnecessary code. So Blake and fellow programmer David Hyatt decided to start from scratch. They eventually developed Firefox. Blake's mom Abby and dad David say they knew Blake was destined for greatness from a young age because he taught himself to read at 3. "I remember reading a book to his older brother and when I put it down, Blake picked it up and started reading it out loud," said his dad. "At first, I thought he had just memorized the words, but then I gave him another book and he started reading that, too." At 10, he wrote his first computer program and created his own Web site. "My parents encouraged me to use computers for educational purposes from a very early age and it all sort of went from there," he says.
He was 14 when he landed the job at Netscape. And within a few years, he was being called the next Bill Gates. "It's a huge compliment," said Blake. "But there's a lot of pressure. It's an awful lot to live up to." Unfortunately, Firefox won't help Blake make anything near Gates' $40 billion fortune. He doesn't receive any money from Firefox. It was developed as a free program that anyone can download off the Internet. Still, industry insiders say he's got a big payday coming if he starts his own computer business. "I'm sure he is going to do great things in life, no matter what he ends up doing," his dad declared. "He obviously has a special talent, a unique ability to be a genius at the technical side." Blake is now working on a topsecret computer project with another Netscape colleague. "We're still in a brainstorming mode, so we don't want to say too much," Blake said. "It's going to be pretty cool, something people will like. It's going to be pretty big, but that's all I'll say for now." Hear that, Bill?