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Netscape: Another strategy du jour

Maybe the company has it right--for now.

    Maybe Netscape has it right--for now.

    The company best known for its Web browser last week outlined its latest corporate strategy, one aimed explicitly at getting out of Microsoft's path. For two years now, Netscape has been Public Enemy No. 1 for Bill Gates's gang, becoming the nemesis that Microsoft's culture requires to motivate itself.

    Being the clay pigeon for Microsoft's target practice has hurt Netscape on Wall Street, and Redmond's bare-knuckled tactics have, appropriately, drawn the attention of the Justice Department.

    To get out of harm's way, Netscape has identified a series of essentially niche markets, tied them together by calling them a corporate strategy, and posited that there are synergies among them. Some of the synergies are clear, but a key one is still unproven.

    Netscape's plan is like a reinforced, three-legged stool. The legs are an enterprise software business focused on creating a computer infrastructure in large organizations, Internet commerce software, and its oft-visited Web site.

    The reinforcement for those three pillars comes, to my surprise, from Netscape's no-revenue Web browser business, where the company continues to innovate. The browser tie-in will be to Netcenter, which Netscape is building out into a "portal" site for business users. Although users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser can use Netcenter, Netscape said (sans details) that it will link new services and information offerings tightly with Navigator/Communicator.

    More interesting than what Netscape said it would do are the things it said it won't do. Take these points from cofounder Marc Andreessen, who now runs Netscape's application business:

  • "We continue to aggressively support Windows NT. We're not going to try to kill NT or to kill Windows. We want to add value." (Remember when Netscape used to say "the browser is the platform" and speculate openly about the Net making Windows irrelevant?)

  • "We are not going after workgroup functions or groupware." (Didn't the company buy Collabra for its groupware and build collaborative technologies into its browsers?)

  • "We are not fundamentally focused on small or medium-sized businesses." (Isn't the Web supposed to make large and small businesses appear identical?)

  • "We are not going for broad-based, desktop platforms but for mission-critical applications." (Remember when it was all about the browser?)

    "We are no longer trying to be all things to all people," Andreessen added. He exaggerated only slightly in saying that in earlier days the goal had been to "take all products into all channels in all countries in all languages all at once."