Netscape releases browser source code today

Netscape Communications will start giving away its browser source code for free starting today, a move some analysts say might attract more developers and help the company sell servers.

But most analysts are waiting to see results before declaring the move a success. Company officials will release more details about the giveaway, first announced in January, this afternoon.

Netscape will require developers who incorporate the code into their products to make those products available to the company, which may then be included in future Netscape offerings.

David Card, an analyst with Jupiter Communications in the US, says the move could speed proliferation of Communicator and other technology. "I'm hoping that Netscape turning over its source code will encourage people to play with it," he says, adding that freeing the code would open up the company to more feedback from developers.

"I think they'll learn a lot by doing this and push technology faster than they could by themselves," Card added. Analysts says the free source code could spur developers, especially those developing technology for thin clients such as set-top boxes and network computers, to create more interactive applications and more applications compatible with Netscape's technology.

However most are not yet confident the move will boost Netscape's bottom line. "Besides good PR, it could help to build Netscape's partner strategy, which was never one of its strong points," says Jeff Narucki, an analyst with Progressive Strategies in the US. But he added: "It's a too-little, too-late type of thing."

Netscape broke the news after warning of a disappointing fourth-quarter loss. Since then, it's been scrambling to reassure developers, investors and customers. In addition to releasing the code, it's also trimmed its channel staff and started a new division to focus on Web content in recent weeks.

Zona research analyst, Jim Balderston, says Netscape is hoping the code giveaway will eventually boost server sales. If a slew of companies introduce client software based on the free code, more firms will be looking for compatible servers, presumably from Netscape. "They're hoping that this somehow jump-starts them," Balderston says.