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PointCast to push for IE 4.0

Microsoft cuts a deal with PointCast to deliver PointCast Network channels to users of Internet Explorer 4.0, nearly a month after Netscape announced its own partnership with the broadcaster, a deal which has now fallen through.

Microsoft (MSFT) today cut a deal with PointCast to deliver PointCast Network (PCN) information channels to users of Internet Explorer 4.0, nearly a month after Netscape Communications (NSCP) announced its own partnership with the broadcaster, a deal which has now fallen through.

Under the deal announced today, Microsoft will enable users of its forthcoming Internet Explorer 4.0 to receive PCN information channels. Normally, users must tune into PCN channels using a proprietary application from PointCast. The companies also detailed a broader agreement that makes MSNBC one of the network's channels.

It appears that Microsoft has edged Netscape out as PointCast's chief browser partner, the latest in a series of aggressive moves by the software giant to capture market share from the leading Web browser, Navigator.

Netscape confirmed that the deal with PointCast, which was announced at Comdex last month, fell through. The company cited "business reasons" for the disintegration of the deal.

"It's always disappointing when you can't finish a partnership with people," said Alex Edelstein, group product manager at Netscape. "We're not going to spend any time crying about this, though."

Microsoft officials characterized its relationship with PointCast as exclusive, although PointCast officials wouldn't comment on this point.

Edelstein, however, said there's a possibility that Netscape could revive its broadcast partnership with PointCast in the future. PointCast representatives declined to discuss the details of its relationship with Netscape, except to say the company is "a partner."

PointCast has pioneered a method of automatically distributing information to users' desktops rather than requiring them to manually visit Web sites, as is the case with traditional Web browsers. The company has also cut deals with more than a dozen information providers, including CNN, CMP, and others to distribute news headlines, stock quotes, and sports scores using PointCast software. Collectively, the channels are known as the PointCast Network.

The deal with Microsoft is a huge win for PointCast, which could swell the existing PCN audience of 1.5 million users to millions more. Microsoft plans to thoroughly integrate broadcast capabilities into Explorer 4.0 through a feature called the Active Desktop.

"We see the industry focusing more on broadcast because it delivers information in a really compelling way," PointCast's CEO Chris Hasset said today. "We looked at Microsoft, and it has an expertise in creating a seamless experience for users."

Similarly, Netscape has introduced a broadcast technology, code-named Constellation, that will be a feature of Communicator, due in beta form by the end of this year. Netscape was to have given users of its Communicator software the ability to receive PCN broadcasts.

But the disintegration of its deal with PointCast represents a blow to Netscape's efforts to bring broadcast content to its users. The company emphasized today that Communicator users will still be able to receive information and software available through Marimba's Castanet technology as well as other information providers.

This is not the first time that Microsoft has eclipsed existing business deals between Netscape and other Internet players. Last March, Microsoft announced that America Online had chosen to bundle Explorer with its online service software, one day after Netscape announced that AOL had said it would use Navigator. Microsoft has also cut Explorer bundling deals with dozens of other Internet service providers, many of which had been shipping Navigator to their customers.

PCN channels will be available for Explorer 4.0 users in the second quarter of 1997, though a public beta version of Explorer is expected to be released sooner. PointCast today dubbed its PCN efforts for the new year PointCast Network 97.