Bigfoot has portal-sized ambitions

Bigfoot International Inc. plans to release the newest version of its alternative browser interface, NeoPlanet, next week.

Bigfoot International Inc. plans to release the newest version of its alternative browser interface, NeoPlanet, next week.

And to help supplement revenues from the free product, it's adopted the same model as seemingly every other Internet company that doesn't directly sell its products: that is, it's looking to become a portal. NeoPlanet is an add-on to the Internet Explorer browser, basically giving the browser a flashy interface and a few additional features; Bigfoot describes the product as making browsers as easy to use as America Online (NYSE:AOL).

"Microsoft and Netscape's browsers are getting to be basically alike, and they're not that much fun to use," said NeoPlanet Vice President and General Manager Drew Cohen. "They're focused on richer HTML, Javascript, and that sort of thing, because they're focused on enterprise sales, getting companies to buy their servers. We're focused on the consumers."

Cohen said users have downloaded 100,000 copies of NeoPlanet since its official launch in September, with 75,000 of those downloads coming last month.

A choice of interfaces
The new features in NeoPlanet 2.0 include a customizable interface that can make the browser look like an iMac, something out of Star Trek, or even a Goth gadget.

Users can also create "channels" -- collections of subject-oriented links that appear in the browser interface -- and trade them with other NeoPlanet users. But the most important features from Bigfoot's point of view might be those that turn the browser into a kind of client-based portal.

Portals are sites such as Yahoo! (Nasdaq:YHOO) and Netcenter that gather a slew of features into one place in order to attract users, which means they can sell advertising.

Bookmarks on steroids
"We think that's a great idea, but we say that we can do it on the client side, instead of all on the server side," said Cohen. "That way you can take advantage of the power of your machine, instead of waiting for a server to do it."

So, along with the fancy interface, users get a selection of preset content categories ("bookmarks on steroids," NeoPlanet calls them), an e-mail application, the What's Related tool from Alexa Internet, and other features.

NeoPlanet now automatically updates itself, so users will get new add-ons as they come out.

The channels include major sites, such as (Nasdaq:AMZN), that have partnered with Bigfoot to create special versions of their site for NeoPlanet users. Bigfoot, in New York, will receive a cut of advertising revenue or sales generated by NeoPlanet users.

Users needed
The main portions of the site are provided by portal, a joint-venture between CNet Inc. and NBC.

Bigfoot itself updates some of the preprogrammed channels with current news and information, as an incentive for users to return often. If the company is able to attract users to Bigfoot-branded pages, it could generate an income from selling advertising, as portal sites do.

There's even a window in the browser where Bigfoot can display news and advertising.

Before the company can make a killing from ads, however, it will have to sign up a large user base. NeoPlanet's 100,000 downloads compares to about 27 million monthly users for the popular portal, according to Media Metrix.