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Netscape tool rounds out lineup

Netscape plugs a critical gap in its product line by announcing its first full-fledged development tool.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) today plugged a critical gap in its product line by announcing its first full-fledged development tool.

As previously reported by CNET, Netscape said today that it will post a "preview release" of Visual JavaScript, a visual development tool for building intranet and Internet applications using JavaScript on its Web site next week.

At the same time, the company will beef up its Web server technology by announcing Enterprise Server Pro 3.0, which will come with an Informix or Oracle database.

Visual JavaScript will provide developers with a visual, drag and drop environment for assembling JavaBeans components--small reusable chunks of Java code--into applications that run on browsers using the JavaScript scripting language. Developers will need a separate Java development tool, such as Symantec's Visual Cafe for Java, to actually create the JavaBeans components.

The $495 development tool will also allow developers to exploit other Internet technologies such as the CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) protocol and HTML in their applications.

The announcement of Visual JavaScript is a precursor to the JavaOne developer conference, which begins this Wednesday. Initially, the tool will run only on Windows 95 and NT. It will ship at the end of this year.

Netscape first announced its intention to release a visual development tool--code-named Palomar--earlier this month. Although it has gradually expanded the capabilities of its Internet servers and browsers, Netscape has remained weak in the tools area, promoting tools from other companies instead through a package called SuiteTools.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has made a concerted effort to become a player in the Internet tools space with products such as Visual J++ and Visual InterDev.

Analysts said that a Web development tool will make Netscape's server and client software more attractive to big customers by making it easier to create sophisticated applications for the products.

"I believe this is an extremely important step for them," said Evan Quinn, research director at International Data Corporation. "No platform has been successful without a reference set of tools. Look at the mainframe and there's COBOL. Look at Windows and there's C++."

Today, Netscape took another step that could make its server products easier for corporations to use. The company will bundle either an Informix Workgroup or Oracle 7 database with its Enterprise Server 3.0 Web server.

Enterprise Server Pro 3.0 will cost $1,995 and will be available for Windows NT and Unix in the second quarter. Previously, Netscape had offered a full-fledged database with its LiveWire Pro management tool and a more limited run-time database with LiveWire. Netscape has said previously that it would merge LiveWire with Enterprise Server, but had not offered details on pricing and what databases the bundle would include.

Still, it's unclear whether Netscape's customers will require a new database since they are likely to have databases already deployed within their networks. Analysts said the Web server/database bundle will still be a convenient option for some customers.

"A lot of people already have a database, but if they are building a new application they may not want to burden that database with a whole new application," said Jamie Lewis, president of the Burton Group.