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Andreessen foresees the extranet

Extranets, or intranets linked together via a wide area network, may very well be the next big thing in corporate use of Internet technology, according to Netscape's Marc Andreessen.

SAN FRANCISCO--Extranets, or intranets linked together via a wide area network, may very well be the next big thing in corporate use of Internet technology, according to Marc Andreessen, Netscape Communications' (NSCP) senior vice president of technology.

"In most cases, [an extranet] is a secure IP connection over a leased line," Andreessen said in his keynote remarks at the Online Developers III conference here. "In some cases, it's a secure connection over the Internet itself."

However, there is an obstacle standing before the development of extranets, he said. As more and more sensitive business data travels over the Net, U.S. export restrictions on strong cryptography technology may prove an impediment. "This brings the issue of exportable cryptography to a head."

He added that a future version of Navigator will also boost the security of Net phone calls by encrypting voice packets as they stream across the Internet, a feature that might cause concern among governmental security agencies. "If anything is going to get anyone's underwear in a bunch over cryptography, this is it." Andreessen said.

Like other companies, Netscape has found that profits in the consumer market are elusive and has turned increasingly to the corporate market, which is using Net technology to build intranets, and maybe soon extranets, Andreessen noted.

Analysts at the conference said today that Netscape's recent, intense focus on the corporate marketplace represented by intranets and extranets has been prompted in part by Microsoft's entry into the Internet market.

"Netscape has been forced into nonconsumer markets and now noncomputer devices by the overwhelming onslaught of Microsoft," said Adam Schoenfeld, vice president of Jupiter Communications, a market research firm that's hosting the conference. "Microsoft has ensured that there will be very little revenue in the consumer market by giving their browser away for free."

Netscape wants to reach consumers through nonPC devices, a category in which Microsoft has shown limited interest. Netscape has high hopes that consumer dollars will eventually augment its bread-and-butter corporate revenue. Last month, the company created Navio Communications, a spin-off business that will develop browser software for video game machines, network computers (NCs), and other low-cost consumer devices.

That's why after talking about the spread of extranets, Andreessen also took the time to remind the audience that Netscape has not forgotten its consumer base. He highlighted a number of emerging technologies, including NCs, Internet telephones, and the increasing bandwidth that will lure more consumers and innovation onto the Internet in the coming years.