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CompuServe Set to Boost Internet Options with Netscape Deal

March 9, 1996

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Netscape Communications Corp. broadened the reach of its popular Navigator World Wide Web browser program on Friday by entering into a distribution agreement with CompuServe Inc., the second-largest online service.

Users of Macintosh and Windows-based computers who subscribe to CompuServe or its separate Internet access provider, Sprynet, will be able to use Navigator at no charge beginning this spring.

The companies’ arrangement also calls for CompuServe and Sprynet to be added to the menu of Internet service providers that appears on versions of Navigator that are sold in stores. And it gives Netscape access to CompuServe customers in 146 foreign countries and calls for future joint marketing efforts.

Mike Homer, Netscape marketing director, said he expects the exposure to CompuServe’s 4.5 million subscribers will help the company sell other products, such as secured transaction software for online shopping.

CompuServe’s subscribers can already use browser software _ which lets people find and access information on the Web _ from Spry or Microsoft Corp. But the Netscape Navigator is the world’s most widely used browser.

``The thrust behind this is to remain browser neutral,″ said Robert Mainor, vice president of product marketing for CompuServe. ``When somebody logs onto CompuServe, unlike America Online, they won’t be forced to choose a propietary browser.″

America Online subscribers automatically use a browser it has designed, although they can download Netscape’s product and use it with most kinds of computer operating software.

Industry watchers had mixed opinions about the impact the CompuServe deal will have on the rivalry between Netscape and Microsoft.

Both companies give away browsers or sell them at low cost to improve sales of their so-called ``server″ programs, which are used to publish information to be accessed on the World Wide Web. And both are talking to America Online, the biggest online service with 5 million subscribers, about giving their browsers prominence on that service.

``This move is going to be read as a defeat for Microsoft,″ said Adam Schoenfeld, vice president of Jupiter Communications in New York. ``Everyone thought that Microsoft had sewn up CompuServe.″

But Rod Kuckro, editor of Information and Interactive Services Report in Washington, said the deal probably was driven more by Netscape’s need to build a support base for its other products than by any Microsoft failure.

``It’s a nice deal for Netscape, and it probably gives their shareholders some confidence,″ Kuckro said.

Netscape’s stock rose $1.25 to $40 Friday amid the market’s broader selloff. Microsoft shares closed down $2.18 3/4 to $95.12 1/2. Shares in H&R Block Inc., parent of CompuServe, closed down $1.62 1/2 to $32.62 1/2.

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