The browser is dead, long live the open email, groupware and browser suite. The pre-release launch of Netscape?s new groupware product, Communicator, which coincides with the refocusing of its distributor line-up, is an indication that the company is retooling. It plans to move away from browsers and into the Web server and groupware arena ? essentially Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes and Novell Groupwise territory.
This may sound like trying to bring the mountain to Mohammed. Microsoft, which controls 85 per cent of the applications suite market, distributes Internet Explorer, complete with collaboration tools similar to those of Communicator, free of charge. Outlook, the email upgrade to Microsoft Exchange is bundled with Office 97. Lotus, which dominates the enterprise groupware market with Notes, has just released Domino, its Web server upgrade to Notes.
But if the take-up of the corporate intranet is even half of what analysts suggest, there will be serious money to be made and room for several players.
Research firm IDC claims that standards-based Internet mail leads email market growth, with a 140 per cent increase in installed base predicted for 1996/97. A report by Wharton Information Systems, The UK Intranet Market; Separating Hype from Faction, forecasts annual intranet growth at about 200 per cent. The total additional revenue generated by intranets by 2000 is predicted to be about #3 billion worldwide.
If companies are interested in adopting Internet-based messaging standards, Netscape may be in the best position to provide the infrastructure. Two moves made by Netscape over the past month reaffirm the company?s corporate channel direction. Its deal with Data Tec will open up new Var partnerships through a company which has experience with networking and systems integration. Dropping Sphinx CST underlines the fact that Netscape wants highly focused distributors. But Sphinx CST MD Terry MacDonald pointed out: ?Netscape signs so many OEM agreements, it?s arguable whether there?s anything left for distribution.?
Netscape?s UK channel manager James Symmington says Netscape wants focused channel partners, corporate resellers, database and workflow specialists and systems integ- rators. But he says Netscape is used to dealing with young companies. Confused? They may be.
Nick Sears, business development manager at Azlan, which deals with the entire product set, says Netscape?s inexperience in the channel, combined with resellers? ignorance of what is actually meant by the word ?intranet?, means opportunities for distributors.
?Netscape needs focused distributors for the kind of resel- lers they are aiming at. There is not a reseller in this country worth its salt that?s not looking at Netscape, a lot of resellers don?t realise there?s anything more to Netscape than browsers. That?s why there?s so much opportunity for distributors.?
John Chapman, group MD at Data Tec, agrees: ?A lot of them aren?t clear what an intranet is.?
Roy Howitt, marketing manager for BSG, thinks quite the opposite. He says that specialist resellers with experience of legacy infrastructure may squeeze distributors out of the market. ?If there are three, four or five Netscape distributors out there as well as experienced resellers such as ourselves, all we?ll want from them will be fulfilment. The margins distributors make will potentially go down, but the margins of specialist resellers will remain strong. Distributors are going to be squeezed.?
Netscape needs to be choosy in its channel partners. Sears says resellers chosen to participate in Netscape?s Affiliate Plus scheme ?have traditionally been strong with Microsoft and Lotus applications, or have been large-scale network resellers.? Sears thinks Netscape products require increasing amounts of specialism to sell. ?Twelve months ago, all we had to ask was how many browsers do you want and do you want a server? Now we?re moving into a more consultative role.? The good news for tooled up resellers and distributors is there?s now more room for value add.
Is entering a market with a solid Microsoft/Lotus customer base like trying to get between a rock and a hard place? Simon Moores, chairman of the Intranet Forum, doesn?t think so. ?Netscape is approaching groupware with a different slant. Both Notes and Exchange are heavy clients. The Internet allows you to have a thin client. Middle-level corporates will be looking at Internet-based solutions. Also the back-end costs for Microsoft and Lotus are high.?
Moores identifies a crucial market for Netscape partners in what he calls the sub-enterprise market. ?If you?re involved with Microsoft and Lotus you?ve probably already sold into the enterprise market. What you need to look at is the corporates one rung beneath.?
Symmington identifies Netscape?s server product market as Fortune 500, but if Moores is to be believed, resellers and distributors should aim a bit lower.
Microsoft executives are quick to point out that all their browsing, collaborative, video conferencing and telephony products are free for download (Communicator will cost $49), and that most of Netscape?s revenue comes from Windows desktop user base. And Lotus Notes has 80 per cent of the enterprise groupware market.
But Moores said: ?The desire to move away from proprietary systems outside the top 500 firms are the issues around which the groupware battle will be lost, and won.? The browser may be dead, but Netscape will be around for some time.
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