CompuServe said that all of its services will be available through any Web browser by year's end. CompuServe's migration to the Web--an effort code-named Red Dog--will let any user with an Internet connection and Web browser to get information on a CompuServe service instead of requiring custom software and proprietary network connections.
Users will still have to pay to get into the site, but the company has not yet announced its pricing scheme. CompuServe's stock closed down 1-1/4 at 26-1/2 today.
CompuServe said it will not entirely dump the proprietary version of its service but will focus 80 percent of its efforts on developing Internet services. Its first Web-based products should be available this summer.
The announcement from the second-largest online service, which will bring its more than 6 million subscribers to the Net, follows similar moves by Microsoft Network, Prodigy, and AT&T Interchange Online Network. All three of those online services want to take advantage of the growing popularity of the Internet to expand. Although CompuServe and AOL continue to add new users, industry analysts have long predicted a slowdown in online service subscriptions as more users jump onto the Net.
Unlike other services, AOL insists that it will not abandon its custom software, although it does already allow users to obtain AOL information through any Internet service provider and runs its own Internet access service, called GNN.
In spite of the tectonic shift towards the Net, however, some analysts also say that proprietary software and networks provide certain advantages over Web sites that many users will be loathe to lose. "There are lot of things being done better on proprietary online services than on the Internet," said Jerry Michalski, managing editor of industry newsletter Release 1.0. "When you go on AOL and CompuServe and use their forums, they're pretty good. It will be a couple of years until someone invents those facilities on the Internet."
Although real-time chat capabilities--one of the most popular features of online services--are available over the Internet through Internet Relay Chat clients and Java applets, they are not as easy to use and flexible as the existing services on CompuServe and AOL, Michalski said.