US Report: Netscape challenges Yahoo!

Netscape is offering free e-mail from its Netcenter Web site, but that's just the beginning of "Project 60," a two-month drive to build Netcenter into a portal on par with Yahoo! or Excite.

Netscape is offering free e-mail from its Netcenter Web site, but that's just the beginning of "Project 60," a two-month drive to build Netcenter into a portal on par with Yahoo! or Excite.

Netscape WebMail, the Web-based service to be introduced in partnership with USA.NET, is the first of a set of free services Netscape will have online in the next 60 days as it adds a Netscape-branded search tool, content channels and other features already found on Excite and Yahoo!

"We view free e-mail as a key offering as we grow Netcenter into a key portal site," said Netscape's Mike Homer, who is in charge of the Netcenter site.

As Netscape has faced an increasingly uphill battle in the markets for browsers and enterprise server software, it has turned to its potentially lucrative home site as a driver of revenue, according to industry watchers. "At the end of (last) year... for the first time revenues dropped," observed Jim Balderston, an analyst with Zona Research in the US. "If we don't see a turnaround there, in the enterprise server software market, this may be their revenue option."

Other so-called "portal" sites such as Yahoo!, Excite, Lycos and Infoseek - designed to be convenient, full-service entryways into the Internet - have had success in drawing Internet traffic, and Wall Street interest, by integrating everything from maps to chat rooms into their sites.

Netscape's new maneuvre will make it a direct competitor to those sites, which it once helped to establish on the Web. But now Netscape plans to use its position as the dominant browser maker, with 70 million users, to drive traffic to Netcenter.

For example, WebMail will have a button on Netscape's browser, Communicator, that will take users directly to the mail program. Users will also receive notifications of new WebMail messages through the browser, and be able to synchronise address books between the Communicator mail program and WebMail.

Netscape says it draws about 24 million visitors to its Web site per month. Netcenter has 4.2 million members, about half of whom use the site as a home page.

Privately-held USA.NET, has nearly four million users of its NetAddress e-mail service.

Terms of the revenue-sharing deal between the two companies were not released.

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