Saying that it was planned all along, Netscape Communications (NSCP) is offering a standalone version of the Navigator 4.0 browser that includes the Netcaster push software but no email or newsreader client.
"We have had input that splitting the product out was something both customers and partners wanted," said Mike Homer, executive vice president of sales and marketing. "That's been our plan from the very beginning."
The company has been under pressure from Lotus Development and other industry partners to unbundle the Navigator browser from the Communicator software suite. Lotus refused to ship its popular Lotus Notes groupware with Communicator because the new suite contains competing features such as email and conferencing groups.
Homer downplayed that pressure, saying Netscape was waiting to establish a "beachhead" in the enterprise with Communicator before it made the move to unbundle the browser. Communicator will continue to ship with the Navigator and Netcaster components.
"We've always planned to bring this product into the family but wanted to wait for Communicator," he said. "There were partners who wanted us to do it earlier, but they simply got impatient while we were establishing the beachhead."
Netscape representatives acknowledged earlier this month that customers were asking for separate components, but one product manager insisted as recently as August 4 that Navigator would not be unbundled during the current product cycle.
The company risked angering its industry partners to sell as many copies of Communicator as possible, according to one Internet software analyst. "They tried to hold out until the last possible moment and make as much money from Communicator sales," said John Robb, principal of technology consultants Gomez Advisors "They don't have much margin to spare. If they had come out with the standalone browser first and then tried to sell the other Communicator suite components, they would have had serious problems making headway."
The new Navigator will technically cost $39, but Homer acknowledged that Netscape isn't expecting many consumers to pay the fee because they can often already get the browser through bundling agreements with Internet service providers and PC makers. "Let's face it. In practice, anybody who really wants our software for free gets it that way," he said.
As with previous versions, the software is downloadable from the company's Web site for a 90-day "evaluation period," after which users are to send the company the money on an honor system. A Macintosh version of Navigator 4.0 will be available in September, Homer said.
The company sees the browser as a "seed" to push people toward the more robust Communicator suite. Navigator 4.0 users who decide to upgrade to Communicator on the retail side will be able to get a $30 rebate from the $59 Communicator standard suite.
To give the stripped-down client rudimentary email and scheduling capabilities, Netscape will provide extensions called "Messenger Express" and "Calendar Express" for their SuiteSpot servers. Navigator 4.0 users will have to connect remotely to check HTML-based email and schedules within the browser.
The refocus on the consumer market is a smart move but perhaps too late, Robb said. "They still have market dominance...but they could have been more aggressive. If you own the consumer and what's on the consumer desktop, you can set the standards within corporations. Companies will buy technology internally that matches what their customers, consumers, and suppliers are using."