Netscape plans new measures to exploit legal battle against Microsoft
NEW YORK (AP) _ Struggling to regain Internet software supremacy, Netscape Communications Corp. on Wednesday detailed a drive to use the legal woes facing Microsoft Corp. to convince computer makers and consumers to switch back to its World Wide Web browser.
Netscape chief executive James Barksdale said in a phone interview that the company is making available through hundreds of Internet sites software and instructions on how people can replace their Microsoft Internet Explorer browser with Netscape’s Navigator software.
In addition, Netscape is negotiating with major PC makers to convince them to install Navigator in addition to Internet Explorer. Netscape also has expanded a campaign to distribute its software to consumers, through third parties such as Internet service providers and modem makers, to 130 million disks over the next 6-to-9 months.
But despite a judge’s far-reaching order against Microsoft and public support for Netscape, the smaller rival faces an uphill battle in regaining the edge in the browser wars, industry experts say.
The federal judge last Thursday ordered Microsoft to stop, at least temporarily, requiring manufacturers to install its Internet Explorer on personal computers as a condition of using its enormously popular Windows operating system.
The preliminary unjunction was in response to a Department of Justice lawsuit that Microsoft has abused its monopoly on PC operating systems to control other software markets.
``Netscape is in a position to capitalize on anti-Microsoft feelings, but unless they can convince some hardware maker to go with Netscape instead of (Internet Explorer), then there’s no immediate benefit,″ said Michael Gartenberg, a research director at Gartner Group.
Winning back PC makers will be tough.
Microsoft said it would comply with the judge’s order, but only by selling older or stripped-down versions of its Windows operating system. Computer makers were seen as unlikely to buy the version of Windows software that works without Microsoft’s browser because it lacks many of the functions of the Windows 95 software Microsoft currently sells for controlling the basic functions of PCs.
The Justice Department on Wednesday asked the judge to find Microsoft in contempt of the order, saying the software maker was still tying the hands of PC makers.
Barksdale said Netscape may consider giving away its browser, something Microsoft has done to build its share of the market. Netscape gets a growing portion of its revenues from another source: Selling software to corporations that links computers into company-wide networks.
``We will keep all those options open and available,″ Barksdale said. ``But just like the President says about going into Iraq, that doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything.″
As long as Netscape charges for its browser, analysts say it’s unlikely to make much headway in convincing ordinary people to switch.
``The rhetoric from those guys is that now we have a level playing field and will be real aggressive in winning back their business,″ said Eric Brown, an analyst with Boston-based Forrester Research.
``But the next battleground that Netscape faces is price competitiveness.″
But Barksdale sees an opening in the federal judge’s order.
One opportunity, Barksdale said, is in enabling people to easily download special software by clicking the Netscape icon, located on hundreds of Web sites. Currently, it’s tough for most people to ``de-install″ their Internet Explorer browser, in part because of the difficulty in switching files such as bookmarks from one browser to another.
Netscape, based in Mountain View, Calif., has led the market for browsers, software that helps computer users find and retrieve information on the Internet. Customer loyalty remains high even though Navigator’s lead has been seriously eroded by Internet Explorer, which shows up automatically on an increasing number of PCs using Windows.
According to Dataquest Inc., Internet Explorer’s share of the browser market nearly doubled in the first nine months of 1997 to 39.4 percent while Navigator’s slipped from 73 to 58 percent. Netscape, however, says it has 67 percent of the market.
``Since two-thirds of the market wants Netscape Navigator now, it seems something (PC makers) would want with their product ... even in an uphill battle,″ Barksdale said.