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Netscape packs new punch on intranets

Netscape has new interfaces and tools for building intranet applications atop Web software.

Under growing pressure on the browser side of the market from Microsoft and its Internet Explorer, Netscape Communications today announced a set of interfaces and a software development toolkit intended to position its Web browser and servers as the hub for corporate intranet applications.

The company introduced the Netscape Open Network Environment (ONE), a set of class libraries and application programming interfaces based on existing and emerging Internet and cross-platform development standards, including HTTP, HTML, LDAP, and Java.

Netscape is not defining new specifications. Instead, it is roping together a collection of existing cross-platform standards under the Netscape ONE umbrella and is seeding the market with a free software development kit that allows corporate users to easily build intranet applications atop Netscape products.

The move follows an announcement by rival Microsoft on Friday that it will place management of its ActiveX technology standards into the hands of an independent body. Analysts viewed the move as an attempt to outmaneuver Netscape and its claims that its technologies are "open" and accepted by a wide range of third-party software developers.

Netscape ONE is a kind of counterattack that the company hopes will solidify its claim that it has more "open" technologies that are supported by a wide spectrum of developers.

With the Netscape One development kit, which the company posted on its Web site for developers today, the company says it is providing corporations with better tools for building intranet applications.

Part of the kit, the Internet Foundation Classes, includes a set of pre-programmed software building blocks called classes, designed to build capabilities such as security and messaging into Web applications. For example, the kit could minimize the development time for creating a custom workflow application that automatically routes users through the process of signing on to the system and then encrypting and mailing an HTML form.

Netscape's classes are similar to the Microsoft Foundation Classes on Windows, except that they are written in Java so that developers can use them to program for any platform, not just Windows, said Bob Lisbonne, Netscape's vice president of client product marketing.

Netscape also today tried to shore up support for an existing protocol, called the Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP), that it says will make it easier for companies to retrofit client-server applications created with object-oriented tools for intranet environments. IIOP--which will be incorporated into Netscape's Galileo version of its browser later this year and Orion servers next year--is based on the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), a widely adopted standard for communication between applications and objects.

The company also announced that more than 50 companies have pledged to support Netscape ONE, including Asymetrix, Borland International, Corel, Informix Software, and Sybase. Netscape also said 21 companies have already licensed Netscape ONE and intend to include the interface in their own development tools.

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