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MS's free Net server takes on Netscape

Microsoft today started giving away its Internet Information Server (IIS) for Windows NT and kicked off the first stage of its attack on Netscape Communications' Web server market.

Microsoft today began giving away its new Internet Information Server (IIS) for Windows NT Server as part of a marketing campaign that aims directly at Netscape Communications' Commerce Server.

Part of the Internet strategy that Microsoft announced last December, IIS is now available for free online. The IIS server will also be delivered in March as a $99 boxed product complete with documentation, and it will be included in the March release of the $999 NT Server Network Value Pack, which also includes the OS. The IIS server offers advanced fault tolerance features to let users build backup systems in case of server crashes and built-in encryption, Microsoft officials said.

The IIS release was accompanied by pledges of support from some dozen PC server manufacturers, including Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and Intergraph, all of which intend to preload the software on their Pentium- and Pentium Pro-based hardware as early as this spring.

The relatively low cost and Microsoft's alliances with hardware manufacturers are intended to strike a blow to Netscape's Commerce Server, which still ranks behind market leaders NCSA and Apache but has increased its market share to 14.7 percent of the Internet server market, according to Internet market research firm Netcraft. Netscape earns roughly 30 percent of its revenue from its server products.

Netscape's Commerce Server Version 1.1 for Windows NT Workstation or NT Server costs $1,295; the more widely used Unix version costs $2,995.

Microsoft also claims that IIS performs four times faster than Netscape's server for NT, citing Webstone benchmark tests run by the National Software Testing Laboratories.

Netscape officials conceded that IIS provides better performance for serving static Web pages than its current version of Commerce Server, but hinted that Netscape is due to soon upgrade its server technology.

"We take Microsoft very seriously. But we're in the unique position of being a generation ahead of them...From that standpoint, we don't feel at all threatened," said Atri Chatterjee, Netscape's director of server product marketing.

Chatterjee added that Netscape feels its server products are price-competitive with Microsoft's if users count in support and other necessary software costs and that the company has no immediate plans to cut prices in response to the release of IIS.