The browser battle is over, but Netscape has fired the first shot in a war over intranets.
Netscape's decision to drop out of the over-hyped browser wars is not the sign of a company that has lost the stomach for a good fight. Far from it. Netscape's quite rightly decided that the browser war isn't seriously worth winning, especially since Microsoft has effectively sucked the market value out of the generic product. A browser is now worthless, according to Microsoft.
They should be wearing teeshirts in Redmond and Winnersh saying 'IE is a freebie: Microsoft's giving it away' or 'Microsoft: Sucking value out of the Internet'. And if you - the distribution channel - haven't burnt your 'Microsoft: Enhancing the Internet' teeshirts by now, I suggest you take advantage of Bonfire Night.
Against all the laws of capitalism, Microsoft is throwing huge resources and barrels of money at becoming the dominant player in a giveaway market.
Faced with that kind of kamikaze opposition, Netscape quite rightly decided the browser war ain't worth the fight. It's decided to find a battleground where there's something to win - like market share. Something its resellers can make money out of, not something that fuels the Net-wide frenzy of getting all for nothing. It's common sense from a business perspective.
Netscape knows it has to get value back into its core product, and also to seize the agenda again on the Net. The new Communicator client software is tactically a stunning manoeuvre. It extends the whole metaphor of the Web from being one of 'browser viewing information in an uncontrolled environment' to 'Net users communicating with other net users in a controlled environment'. It moves the agenda from the Internet to the intranet.
OK, there's still a browser in there, but there's a hell of a lot more besides: sophisticated HTML-based email, group discussion, Web authoring utility and conferencing software. A lot of tools that make information sharing on the Net much more than passive browsing for information.
It all boils down to the difference between push and pull. Microsoft now finds itself championing a browser that is essentially a pull product.
The viewer has to go on to the Internet and search for the data that they require - literally pull it out of the chaos of cyberspace.
Netscape's Communicator, though, opens up a whole vista of possibilities around information being delivered, or pushed out, to its clients. Netscape has led the way with Inbox Direct, whereby tailored feeds of information from a host of newspapers are delivered to a subscriber's email address.
The information is customised and it's content rich - not just text messages, but sound, video, plug-ins, Java applets - whole Web caboodle.
More significantly, the discussion group and conferencing facilities in Suitespot/Communicator open up a new area of possibilities in distributed groupware. No longer do you need Novell and Lotus Notes to come up with a decent network over which individuals in a group or organisation can communicate amongst themselves. This not only seriously threatens Lotus, it also aims squarely at the whole newsgroup infrastructure on the Net and conferencing systems like Cix. Personally, I can't wait to get my hands on it.
When you think about it, this is probably the best thing that Netscape could have done. MS has no credible groupware product, though something called Team Manager has started to come off the lips of the Redmond spin-doctors. And with no serious competition to speak of, Lotus Notes has been under little pressure to pull its prices back. It's hard to believe Lou Gerstner's claim that Notes isn't a money-spinner - if Lotus isn't coining it now, then it's going to be in deep trouble next year when Communicator hits town.
The most persuasive weapons in Netscape's arsenal are the two things that matter most to IT buyers in large enterprises: the price of an installation and its backward compatibility with existing systems. Netscape has answered both, by agreeing to embrace Microsoft interactivity with its own products, and by positioning its Suitespot/Communicator license costs well below the competition. Figures from Netscape VP Marc Andreessen for a 1,000-user enterprise-wide setup put Netscape at $57,900, a Notes desktop implementation at $73,590; a Back Office setup at $182,000; and a full Notes installation at $279,510. This kind of sales patter should scare the pants off MS and Lotus.
It shows Netscape is spoiling for a good, clean fight. If its repositioning opens up the intranet market in the corporates, then a lot of resellers are going to find new revenue streams to enjoy. May the best team win.
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