There's no sign of a peace pipe for the vendors anxious to win the cyberspace browser race.
A few weeks ago, two key alliances were announced in the race to dominate cyberspace, a race that has now moved to software applications that browse Internet data. I believe this signals a new battle in the software industry that may have a huge impact on the entire computing industry for the remainder of the century.
On March 13, Bill Gates spoke at Microsoft's professional developer conference in San Francisco. Gates would have journalists believe that he wakes up every morning thinking about browser market share. The reason for this obsession? Microsoft holds close to a 90 per cent market share in operating systems, while Netscape holds about a 74 per cent market share for browsers which find and manipulate data on the Internet. In fact, Gates declared that the browser is part of the operating system.
Just two days before Gates made his comments, Netscape unveiled a strategic relationship with America Online. After Gates' speech at the developers conference, Steve Case, America Online's chief executive, came on to announce that Microsoft's browser will now be included in AOL.
This next market share battleground is not about total market domination by one company, it is about the fact that the location of data is now less important, particularly as the Internet is becoming simpler and more accessible for the masses to use. The result is that software companies are creating numbers of applications that they call a browser which can interact with online data. And once you get access to the nearly limitless information, you will need a search engine to find what you're really looking for. Who are the search engine players?
The mature product comes from Verity. Headed by Phillipe Corutot, who was the head of cc:Mail until it was sold to Lotus, Verity has the strongest technology and product on the market. But newer entrants, such as Yahoo (with a large ownership interest by Softbank, owner of the Comdex show and publishing house Ziff-Davis) and McKinley (owned by Robert Maxwell's daughters) are definitely the sexier products. Other products include Lycos and Web Crawler, just to mention a few.
So the race for market share is on for both the browser and search engine.
At the moment who will win is too hard a call to make with any certainty.
It could be Netscape, Microsoft, some new startup software developer or a large player that wants in, like Oracle.
Yes even Oracle is looking to buy or license search engine technology.
This is because search engine products, or at least a portion of their technology, are critical components in developing intranet sites. And if Oracle is serious about convincing large corporations to adopt its Inter Office suite of products, it will have to help these companies embrace intranets quickly as an add-on replacement to client/server and desktop applications. But these corporate accounts are just as equally the domain of Microsoft and IBM.
Standards for both browsers and search engines are now being openly discussed. In fact, according to a study by Forrester Research, the US market research company, it costs content developers at least an additional 30 per cent to build in the cost for different browsers because of the present lack of standards. And there is no doubt that both small and medium-sized content developers, at the moment the leaders in developing technology and products for the Internet, want one or two standards instead of the increasing number of products on the market today.
But it appears one thing is for certain, and that is the more attention and resources that Microsoft and other software companies spend on the development of Internet products, the easier and more productive the Internet will become for masses of people and corporations to use. And this in turn will open a whole new set of cost-effective opportunities and creative solutions for dealers and their customers to leverage.
This leads me to wonder if browsers and search engines are becoming more important than the PC operating system. Maybe they are. What is certain is that software developers and corporations are starting to make fundamental decisions about retooling and developing new applications that are more closely developed to work with either operating systems or browsers.
So what's the bottom line? It's the fact that the race for cyberworld domination is ultimately great news for the IT industry and for your customers.
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