Netscape unveils its blueprint

Netscape Communications Corp. last week announced plans for its next-generation client and server software products the springboard for the company's leap into the networked enterprise market. The products could help federal agencies access applications across different hardware and operating system platforms.

In a white paper the company mapped out plans for a new category of on-demand applications - called Crossware - that run across various networks operating systems and platforms. In contrast to so-called "fat client" applications which are tied to a particular operating system or cannot extend beyond a firewall Crossware applications will allow existing intranets to communicate with any external entity according to the document.

This product line extends the company's effort to tap the intranet market which the company launched in 1996 with the introduction of its Communicator browser and its new SuiteSpot intranet server line. With Crossware Netscape is angling for a share of the extranet market. Extranets are direct network links between two intranets. Extranet connections typically are either leased secure Internet Protocol lines or private encrypted Internet links.

Netscape's next-generation client and server products code-named Mercury and Apollo will support the development and rollout of Crossware sometime in 1998. Crossware is based entirely on open Internet standards such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) Java and Javascript.

John Menkart regional sales manager for Netscape's Federal Division said federal agencies would be ideal Crossware candidates because the technology can serve as a universal interface to span the wide variety of platforms and operating systems in government avoiding the need to convert or port code.

The technology could help agencies "because of their inability to predict who is going to win the next contract or what type of resources are going to be available " he said. "As they deploy different applications [users] - regardless of what platforms they have today - still have full functionality of the application."

Netscape meanwhile bills Mercury as an "all-in-one" browser that will integrate "push" technology which sends tailored information directly to the desktop so that users do not have to search the World Wide Web.

The new browser will support the development of Crossware applications through object technology including a local client object store that can automatically store content applications objects and data downloaded over the Internet.

Apollo Netscape's next-generation server suite will offer support for distributed transactions both within and beyond a mission-critical intranet environment. Apollo will also provide the ability to centrally manage servers directories and security from the browser.

Bob Lewin director and principal analyst of collaborative computing at San Jose Calif.-based Dataquest Inc. described Netscape's plan as comprehensive. Still he said the company must now demonstrate its ability to mold its vision into products. "It still needs to be proven that the tools are going to be available " Lewin said. "They're going to have a number of servers performing many functions. Much of the underpinning of their announcement depends on the concept of networked computing. It has to be proven that the cost of ownership of networked computers is significantly different than the cost of ownership for personal computers."

For agencies Lewin said possible applications would be in repetitive routine tasks such as processing forms. Still federal "knowledge workers" who must perform a wide variety of tasks will continue to need PCs he said.

In conjunction with the publication of the white paper Netscape announced separately that more than 40 companies - including Digital Equipment Corp. Entrust Technologies Hewlett-Packard Co. Novell Inc. RSA Data Security Inc. Silicon Graphics Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. - have joined Netscape in committing to support a set of open standards and best practices for use in deploying extranets.

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