Leader: An online revolution without Microsoft?

AOL's takeover of Netscape Communications was, during a conference call Tuesday evening, sold as the e-commerce event of the century. E-commerce for anyone, anywhere, anytime...

AOL's takeover of Netscape Communications was, during a conference call Tuesday evening, sold as the e-commerce event of the century. E-commerce for anyone, anywhere, anytime...

Steve Case, AOL's much maligned CEO started off the call saying that the agreement would take e-commerce to a "whole new level and stimulate development of new Internet devices". Although neither Case nor Jim Barksdale, Netscape's president and CEO, would be drawn on what these devices would be or when they would arrive, one thing is certain, Microsoft is the target of the alliance and Sun's Java is the weapon.

Throughout the conference call, e-commerce was mentioned again and again with assurances from the happy trio, that making the Internet easier to use was a top priority. Persuading ordinary people to spend online is what this deal is about and with the agreement all the tools are in place.

  • Sun will do the hardware and defend against Microsoft with its Java technology

  • Netscape will provide the browser, the enterprise and commerce packages and the Netcenter portal

  • AOL will provide the fancy packaging and sheer weight of customers that will make the dream a reality.

"This partnership... will make it easier for consumers and businesses to participate fully in the Internet economy," according to Barksdale who promised that companies wanting to participate in the revolution would not have to worry about creating virtual worlds. It would all be provided.

Experts agree that the deal will give e-commerce a much needed kick up the rear and similarly that the trio will be working hard to keep Microsoft as far from the action as possible. "You can expect to see them pushing Pure Java on all sorts of devices Microsoft will be irked to support," said one source who requested anonymity.

Andy Greenman, an analyst at the Yankee group agrees saying the trio have formed the next "Terrible Empire" with a view to pushing Microsoft into the peripheries with applications and devices it simply will not support. Greenman said: "The whole message fits the 'write once publish anywhere' plan which is now 'AOL anywhere' and very definitely looks to exclude Microsoft." Greenman believes the tie-up with Sun is the most significant part of the deal. "AOL will have all the expertise to build a proprietary browser running on Java to carry AOL content anywhere," he said "and yes, Microsoft should be worried."

For the consumer -- that's anyone with a credit card and some spare cash -- AOL's intention is to control all the major portal sites, which in turn means controlling the whole online experience. If the trio can move the online experience away from Windows on the desktop the surfing revolution could well be under way. "PC's are overly complex. In the long term it is going to be some other interface that people use to get on to the Internet" said James Eibisch, senior analyst at IDC.

AOL on a Microwave? Sounds like another villain on the Net to me.

Microsoft refused to comment despite several phone calls.

Click here for full AOL-Netscape coverage Jane Wakfield contributed to this article.

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