Netscape may give away browser

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Netscape Communications Corp.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Netscape Communications Corp. publicly acknowledged for the first time that the company will consider giving away its Internet browser.

And the company showed no hesitation Tuesday about its intent to take advantage of current legal troubles plaguing archrival Microsoft Corp.

"We look at it from time to time," said Netscape CEO James Barksdale, about giving away the browser. "And if it seems to be a driver [of revenue], we're not opposed to taking that [decision] if it's profitable over the long haul."

In the last several quarters, Netscape has reduced its reliance on standalone sales of its client software. However, Barksdale, who was careful not to leave an impression that a decision to give away Navigator was imminent, nonetheless acknowledged it as an option, as the company's server and services business climbs.

During the September quarter, sales of client software accounted for about 38 percent of Netscape's total revenues, with standalone browsers accounting for 18 percent -- down from approximately 70 percent two years ago.

"At some point, that's an option we can consider," Barksdale said. "But there are still a predictable number of people who will pay [for the browser.] We like that revenue."

By contrast, Microsoft Corp. gives away its Web browser, Internet Explorer. "I don't agree that the only advantage is that it's free," Barksdale said. "Forty bucks is not a lot of money, and in a corporate environment, the software price is a small part of the bundle."

Meanwhile, Barksdale and his chief lieutenants made no bones about their intent to take advantage of legal troubles plaguing Netscape's archrival. Playing up a recent injunction issued by a federal judge, Netscape plans to role out a marketing campaign on the World Wide Web designed to pry Internet Explorer users away from Microsoft. Barksdale said the interim ruling had "raised the consciousness of a lot of people who had never looked at us before."

The "Customer Choice" feature -- expected to go live later this week -- will prompt IE users, asking whether they want to replace Microsoft's browser with Netscape Navigator. Netscape's executive vice president of sales and marketing, Mike Homer, said this was part of the company's "Netscape Everywhere" program, an initiative designed to gain market share in corporate sites.

As it finds itself in the middle of a cat fight with Microsoft for the hearts and minds of corporate users, Netscape has become increasingly proactive about trumpeting its ability to service the needs of big businesses looking to get on the Internet.

Netscape says it has secured 425 so-called "design wins" and expects to nail down close to 700 by the end of this year. A design win refers to a contract with a corporation licensing 500 or more copies of the company's Internet software.


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