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Internet

Free Navigator in your future?

The company unveils a new marketing plan to woo Microsoft Internet Explorer users and leaves open the door to making Navigator free.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California--Buoyed by the Justice Department's decision to temporarily bar Microsoft from bundling Internet Explorer with Windows 95, Netscape Communications (NSCP) today announced a new marketing plan to woo IE users and left open the door to making Navigator free.

The Explorer "switcher" campaign, dubbed the "Customer Choice," will take the form of a button placed initially on the Netscape site that will make it easy for users to replace Microsoft's Web browser with Navigator. The company also said it is in negotiations with the 30,000 sites that already bear the "best viewed with Netscape" label to persuade them to carry the Customer Choice button. The deals could be in place by the end of this week, the company said.

While it works on seeding the market with Navigator, Netscape--once primarily known as the browser company--is also trying to tackle an interesting dilemma: As its overall business continues to grow, the standalone Navigator market is shrinking.

The standalone browser accounted for only 18 percent of the company's $150 million in sales, which means Netscape doesn't have to count on Navigator revenue to sustain its business. This, coupled with the fact that Microsoft makes marketing hay by giving away its own browser for free, is prompting debate on whether Navigator should be given away as well.

"We think about giving it away from time to time," Netscape chief executive Jim Barksdale said. But when asked if a decision was imminent, he replied, "I can't comment on that."

Barksdale also played down the importance of the browser in conducting business with corporate America. He said "it's not a life-threatening" situation if customers choose not to install Navigator, as long as they are buying back-end Netscape products such as SuiteSpot. "[The browser] is important, but not as important as everyone makes it out to be," Barksdale said.

However, because the media has seized on the browser, his company must compete in the market to maintain a high profile. "It's become this blood sport, and we have to participate in it," he said.

Underscoring his point, Barksdale said he wasn't worried about this lack of emphasis on the browser and its impact on Netscape's content business. He pointed to Netcenter, a "members-only" service launched in September to provide news, community groups, and software, which was positioned as a tool for business people.

The important thing was to create good content to draw the "eyeballs," he said, and it didn't matter if a lot of those eyes belonged to Internet Explorer users. Although he declined to provide specific numbers, Barksdale said, "We see a lot IE users coming to Netcenter."