Netscape still dominates in federal marketplace

Although the federal version of the battle to dominate the World Wide Web is just heating up Netscape Communications Corp. remains the browser of choice for federal users even though Microsoft Corp. is throwing enormous resources into its push to emerge from a distant second place.

Microsoft last week introduced Version 3.0 of its Internet Explorer a Web browser that is offered free of charge and competes against the popular Navigator package from Netscape. Meanwhile Netscape today unveils the latest version of Navigator as well as innovative per-user pricing for its Web server software that offers "substantial" price discounts to federal users.

Before Internet Explorer 3.0 Microsoft was "playing catchup" in the browser market according to Jeff Moore manager of channel and systems integration for Microsoft's Federal Division. But now "we clearly have the better product " Moore said. This version features support for the ActiveX standard which allows users to view and interact with multimedia Web sites without opening separate programs. The product also integrates with Microsoft Office applications which will be enhanced with the release of the Web-enabled Office 97.

Microsoft faces a deeply entrenched competitor in Net-scape which owns the bulk of the federal browser market. More than three-quarters of federal employees surveyed by International Data Corp. reported using Navigator. Net-scape's nearest rival according to the survey was the National Center for Supercomputing Applications' Mosaic which was cited by 20 percent of the respondents. About 350 federal employees who said they used the Internet or Web for business processes responded to the IDC survey.

"Right now you've got one product " said Vicky Page an analyst with IDC.

Carlynn Thompson director of research development and acquisition information at the Defense Technical Information Center and the incoming chairwoman of the World Wide Web Federal Consortium also estimated that Netscape has about a 70 percent share of the federal market.

New Package

Netscape intends to solidify its hold on the federal market with a pricing package available only to federal agencies according to Peter Thorp the company's director of federal sales. The new deal will allow agencies to deploy as many Netscape Web servers as they want to support both intranets and the Internet as long as the organization buys a license for at least 1 000 users for $49 995 with each additional user above 1 000 costing $49.95.

John Menkhart Netscape's regional sales manager said this pricing scheme fits well with the way organizations use intranets. "Organizations that start out with one server soon realize they need more because they want to set up dedicated workgroups " he said.

Menkhart said the new pricing scheme covers a slew of Netscape products needed to set up and operate Internet and intranet sites including:* The enterprise server.* A proxy server that allows more than one person at a time to access the same page.* A catalog server that he described as "Yahoo for the intranet."* A mail server * A news server.

The package also includes a product called Live Wire which allows users to interact with a wide variety of databases.

Federal agencies using Netscape appear willing to stick with the technology despite Microsoft's free alternative.

One reason is that Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0 runs only under the Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems while Netscape 3.0 runs under Windows 95 Windows 3.1 Windows NT Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh and Unix.

No Changes ... for Now

Steve Yohai chief information officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development is sticking with Netscape at least in the near term. HUD is a Windows 3.1 shop. "We have no immediate plan to move from Netscape " Yohai said.

Although standardized on Windows 3.1 HUD is planning to migrate to Windows 95. Yohai said he is keeping "an eye open to the future" regarding browser technology.

Jack Littley vice president and director of corporate development with BTG Inc. noted that Netscape customers appear committed to the technology. BTG resells Navigator and played a role in the Defense Information Systems Agency's $3 million purchase of 180 000 copies of Navigator.

"I don't think you'll see Microsoft just come in here and squash Netscape " Littley said.

The Defense Department with its large population of Unix computers will be a difficult sell for Microsoft until its Web products support Unix. Kurt Mulholm director of the Defense Technical Information Center - which maintains more than 80 Web sites including the central Defense Department DefenseLink - said all those sites operate on Sun Microsystems Inc. workstations at the DTIC facility at Fort Belvoir Va.

Microsoft Eyes Bundling

But Microsoft's Moore said Internet Explorer 3.0 will make a big push into the federal market as agencies purchase 32-bit desktops. It will be bundled with Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 Workstation - operating systems that will ship with many new machines.

"We will see tremendous availability of this technology through the purchase of new workstations and PCs " Moore said.

He said that movement will start during the late summer peak federal buying period and continue in fiscal 1997.

And in another browser push Microsoft plans to close the Unix gap this fall when a Unix version of Internet Explorer is slated for availability.

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