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September 10, 1997updated 03 Sep 2016 7:50pm


By CBR Staff Writer

For a company with, it still claims, the pole position in the take-up of the fastest growing medium in history, Netscape Communications Corp is in the unenviable position of having to both evangelize the commercial possibilities of that medium, which we shall call X-net (Intra-net, Extra-net, Inter-net) for brevity, and fight off slashingly aggressive competition from Microsoft Corp with its Internet Explorer and ActiveX initiatives. Yet it is coping remarkably well with the stress – or at least that is the impression it took great pains to convey at a Meet The Analyst beauty contest held four blocks from its Mountain View home Tuesday. Jim Barksdale, its Southern gentlemanly chief executive officer (sitting in blazing noontime Californian sun he mildly offered that this was all balmy compared to Mississipi), claims the internet lives up to that fastest growing claim by the fact that it took radio 38 years to reach 50 million users in the US; TV 13; cable a mere 10; but the net, just 5. And in that short space of time Netscape, with Navigator and its follow-ons, has of course been crucial, making that formerly academic curiosity called the internet into the only Information Superhighway we’ll probably ever know. But even Barksdale has to admit that he now no longer had his God-given 95% market share for the browser on the desktop.

By Gary Flood

Does that mean Netscape, with its claimed 70+% share and 65 million clients (which at this level is a honorific title, given that so few have been honest and paid up for the thing), is slowly slipping into irrelevancy? Nay and thrice nay says Netscape. The company lacks not in ambition. As Karen Richardson, sales VP for the Western (US) Area, says, it has an amazingly complex sales strategy for it sells through all channels to all markets to all kinds of customers, globally, something she smiles is indeed tough for a young company. It now has a threefold face to the world; the intranet, where it seeks wins for full-service intranets with its Communicator and SuiteSpot; extranets, where it wants companies to use its Netscape CommerceXpert, among other things, to talk to and sell to one another online; and the old-fashioned internet itself, a place it wants to ‘link millions of people to businesses’ and promote virtual communities (using its just-live Netcenter on-line service-cum-community area). The underlying point: Netscape doesn’t do just browsers anymore, so even if Internet Explorer were to take all that away it would still have something to offer. Certainly, Netscape is keen on the enterprise, which with some justice it could say it always has been – but now it can offer some sort of proof of that with its so-called design wins, of which as of its second quarter it reckons it has 200 and 2 million seats, a figure it now famously says it wishes to more than triple, to 700 organizations, though within a pretty fuzzy time frame it has to be said. Netscape says this enterprise focus was launched last October with the Communicator and SuiteSpot 3.0 announcements. This has been built on with Netcenter, the ongoing ‘Netscape Everywhere’ initiative whereby it plans to distribute at least 100 million copies of Netscape client software in the home, schools and businesses; and this quarter it will start rolling out electronic commerce products (CommerceXpert) targeted at businesses via its Actra Business Systems LLC joint venture with the Information Services arm of GE. Plus, Netscape is beavering away on developing grown up sales and delivery mechanisms such as its 100 OEMs, over 40 of which are telcos like Deutsche Telekom AG, and some 1,500 VARs. The 200 design wins are also in eminently respectable real-revenue areas, too: 7% are in Government, 10% in education, 11% are telcos (such as Actra client Bell Canada), 12% are in manufacturing, 19% in the health & technology sector, with the largest slice, 16%, in financial services.

Boringest yet importantist

If that were not enough, Netscape points to the fact that it has won wide acceptance for its Internet mail server (number one according to Zona Research Inc), an application which executive vice president of sales & marketing Mike Homer rather inelegantly dubs one of the boringest yet importantest things a big corporation needs to do. And finally there is the move into providing consulting and professional services, now up to 135 staff worldwide, a figure possibly set to rise to 600 by the end of 1998. Even its ‘AOL for business’ area in Netcenter is targeted at professionals (the top 30% of internet users), rather than consumers. The bottom line seems to be that Netscape has figured out new ways of keeping on the edge of developments in the X-net, but that it is overwhelmingly positioned as a supplier of business software to the corporate world, and no longer as a fighter in the browser wars (which its executives now affect to think is something it is bored of answering the questions on). One could either interpret this as abandoning (desktop) territory already lost to the invader – or as wise and nimble positioning happening in parallel with the evolution of use of the net. In some ways both are true, but the real issue is if Barksdale can win those 500 extra blue chip customers within an acceptable period, not just to make the switch in direction real, but to put food on the table of his investors.

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