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Netscape Raises Content Ante In Battle To Retain Web Dominance

August 19, 1996

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Netscape Communications Corp. fired back at Microsoft Corp. by releasing a new version of its popular Web browser Monday and teaming up with more publishers to provide customers with free access to information.

The release of Netscape Navigator 3.0 capped weeks of claims by the two companies about the technical advances they were making to their competing programs for finding information on the World Wide Web.

But when they were finally finished, marketing tactices overshadowed the technical work.

Both companies lined up bonuses for their customers in the form of free access to information on the Web. For instance, people who use Netscape Navigator 3.0 can read The New York Times online for free the rest of the year while those using Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 can get The Wall Street Journal online free for the same period.

``This is mostly people trying to outmarket each other,″ said Richard Shaffer, an analyst with Technologic Partners in New York. ``It’s just a premium _ and the hope is if they can get you to use their browser you’ll use it even when the giveaways go away.″

The moves resemble the competition between online service providers as CompuServe and America Online, which scramble to get brand-name newsmagazines, financial advisors, computer journals and the like.

The new browsers ``are pushing the envelope on the quality of the content and the depth of the content,″ Stan Dolberg, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Browser software has become a key battleground in the software industry. The programs influence the type of program, called ``server″ software, purchased by companies and individuals wishing to publish information online.

Netscape’s Navigator is used by about 80 percent of the people who browse the Web. Its server programs take advantage of features in the browser.

Microsoft has a similar huge share of the market for PC operating systems. But, as more people create data for Internet distribution, it worries that Netscape’s dominance in that area may erode its influence on the overall industry.

Last week, Microsoft said its Internet Explorer 3.0 would also include free access to The Wall Street Journal’s Interactive Edition, ESPN’s SportsZone Web site, Discount Warehouse computer retailer and a few other popular Web pages.

Netscape lined up more than two dozen producers of Web information _ including The New York Times, Charles Schwab, Sony Music, and SportsLine USA _ to provide their information free to users of the new Navigator browser.

It went a step further by setting up a method for that information to be automatically delivered into a person’s electronic mail, based on the person’s desires.

Microsoft is offering the new version of its browser free. Netscape lets users download it from the Internet but suggests they pay $49. Most people who have used previous versions of Netscape Navigator haven’t paid for it, though.

Microsoft’s browser only works with PCs that are run by Microsoft’s Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems. Netscape’s works with those kinds of computers as well as those run by the older Windows 3.1 product, Apple’s Macintosh machines and about a dozen other operating programs.

``Right now ... with Netscape’s daunting share, all Microsoft can do is keep up and become part of the landscape,″ analyst Dolberg said.

Kathy Hale, analyst with Dataquest, said Microsoft could win a bigger share of the browser market in a couple of years by applying lots of money.

``What’s going to be more of a deciding factor is when Release 4 of Internet Explorer comes out ... next year, when Microsoft will be first in beginning to embed the browser into their operating system,″ Hale said.

Dataquest’s parent company, Gartner Group, is one of the companies that has arranged to provide some of its Web-distributed research for free to Netscape users.

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