US Report: Netscape to make big push

Netscape is gearing up to announce a series of new electronic commerce and online application services for high-end IT departments and ISPs.

At its strategy briefing this week in San Francisco, Netscape will release details of its next-generation SuiteSpot servers, Netscape Application Server and family of e-commerce applications that include new versions of MerchantXpert and SellerXpert. All of the forthcoming products will be targeted at the large corporate IT customer.

In the past Netscape has focused on groupware and departmental software. With this latest strategic move, Netscape executives hope to ride what they believe will be the next wave of corporate computing-online application services through which Internet service providers and large IT departments disseminate computing technologies as services instead of applications.

The company will bolster that strategy next week by announcing partnerships with major telecommunications companies, including British Telecommunications and Bell Canada. Both will announce plans to use Netscape servers and applications to offer their customers new outsourcing services.

Ford will also be on hand to announce its plans to use Netscape's Directory Server worldwide. The U.S. car maker will use the software to deliver software to internal departments as well as to all of Ford's dealerships around the world.

Small Web developers said working with telecommunications companies or ISPs could help Netscape reach new customers.

"I've got people who may want to take advantage of something like [online] procurement but can't afford to do it on their own. If they could just go to an ISP or a CSP [commerce service provider] for those services, they'd have a lot more options," said Neal Nichols, a Web developer at KRW Enterprises LLP, in New York.

Netscape is counting on its MerchantXpert and SellerXpert upgrades to be a strong sell in the high-end IT market. The new versions will focus on personalisation and product configuration. For example, MerchantXpert, Netscape's business-to-consumer software, will enable a Web merchant to give customers customised views of products.

SellerXpert is aimed at business-to-business selling and will allow a corporation to create customised price rates and catalogues for each of its customers.

Both new versions will offer improved integration with back-end databases and enterprise resource planning applications. Netscape will also attempt next week to clarify how its online community, Netcenter, fits into the IT plan.

According to a source close to the company, Netscape will add referral links to Netcenter in the software it sells to ISPs and corporate customers.

The company will also detail plans for Netcenter 2.0, due in June, including a number of new channels, such as careers and news.

Netscape will continue to upgrade Netcenter after 2.0's release, with the addition of a smart browsing capability at the end of July.

Netscape officials declined to comment.