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September 24, 1998

SNAP TO GIVE NETSCAPE COMMUNICATOR AWAY

By CBR Staff Writer

Netscape Communications Corp believes that any Communicator or Navigator user is a good user. To demonstrate this conviction, the company is even prepared to forego the material advantage of having its own browsers default to its own portal site, as a deal with NBC’s rival portal Snap has made clear. Snap will distribute versions of Communicator customized to use Snap as the default home page. That’s not to say that Netscape is giving up the advantages of using its browser to drive web traffic back to its own site. On the contrary, this deal is perhaps the first to illustrate the reasoning behind Netscape’s controversial Smart Browsing technology, included in versions 4.5 and higher of Communicator (CI No 3,454). The feature lets users type a keyword, such as scripting, into the location bar to be directed to relevant material on NetCenter. That’s certainly useful, but when Smart Browsing aroused the ire of long-established and respected web sites like http://www.scripting.com it became harder and harder to see why the Mountain View software giant persevered with it. Here’s why. Snap can set whatever default home page it likes but it can’t change the settings in Smart Browsing. Those key words will always point back to NetCenter or to one of its partners. This way Netscape gets to have its cake and eat it. Snap helps distribute the browser, anyone can change the default home page, but a keyword typed into the location bar – even if by accident – will hike NetCenter’s hits. Higher hits mean more ad revenue. Default home pages are cheap but internet short cuts like that might be worth a lot of money someday. Will Netscape ever let distributors modify the links hardwired into Smart Browsing? Executives chuckle but they’re not willing to say. When it comes to Netscape and potential revenue streams, never say never.

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