Tech Industry

Baby browsers eke out share

While Microsoft and Netscape battle for dominance in the browser market, dozens of smaller firms fight for the scraps.

While Microsoft and Netscape battle for dominance in the browser market, dozens of smaller companies keep fighting for the scraps.

The latest browser trying to get a piece of the pie is One Button Access 32-bit browser by InteReach. One Button promises to give users all of the features of Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, as well as six months of Internet access for $12.95 a month from InteReach.

InteReach thinks it can find a niche in the browser market with users who are disenchanted with the two leading browsers. Company executives said they were inspired to create their own browser after subscribers to its Internet access service complained of configuration and dial-up problems with Navigator and Explorer. Now the company is aiming to promote One Button beyond its community of 10,000 subscribers to Internet users at large.

But other more well-known attempts like Apple Computer's Cyberdog for Macintosh and Sun Microsystems HotJava haven't had much luck getting surfers to drop the two biggies and switch to their browsers.

Proof positive is Apple's decision to incorporate the Netscape and Microsoft browsers into its Mac OS, even though it bundles its CyberDog browser with the operating system.

Some of the other browsers that have been eclipsed by Explorer and Navigator include Opera, developed in Norway and NetCruiser from Netcom. Earlier this year, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications decided to pull the plug on future development of Mosaic, which ironically was the first graphical Web browser.

Browser market figures are open to dispute, but a January study by Zona Research showed that Navigator was the primary browser for 70 percent of users, although the figure had slipped from 80 percent in September. Microsoft's share stood at nearly 30 percent, according to Zona.

"I think the browser war has definitely leveled out," said Dave Garaffa, editor of BrowserWatch. "The market is a very hard nut to crack. With the sexiness of Microsoft and Netscape, Apple can't even get its dedicated users to use CyberDog." Apple remains bullish on the technology, though.

One niche market to be exploited by baby-browser companies is to bundle their software with the start-up creators of CD-ROMs, who often can't cut marketing deals with the two major companies, he said.

But InteReach believes its browser will take off, if it can get people to try it. On top of offering its browser to current customers, the company will put One Button on the retail market for $19.95 in August, giving buyers one month of free access.

"We'll put our money where our mouth is," David Pollock, president of InteReach, said today. "If buyers aren't happy with One Button, we'll replace it with copy of Netscape or Microsoft for free."