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Barksdale: Browser war a boon

The Netscape chief says competition is healthy as he comes out firing against archrival Microsoft.

ORLANDO, Florida--When it comes to public discourse, the browser-war story is going to wallop the LDAP-is-a-great-directory story every time.

So was the case with Jim Barksdale?s keynote address at the Gartner Group Symposium/ITxpo here today. The Netscape Communications (NSCP) chief may talk about the enterprise and his company's goal to go after that market, but today he paid lip service to SuiteSpot and LDAP (lightweight directory access protocol), calling the Internet protocol an important issue.

But Barksdale spent all of two minutes on that subject. The bulk of his hour-long question-and answer keynote was devoted to browser wars and market share.

With IE 4.0?s release last week grabbing the limelight and with Microsoft (MSFT) claiming it will win 50 percent of the market with the product, Barksdale came out firing against his main rival.

Barksdale told the 6,000 IT managers in the audience that despite all the efforts Microsoft has made, Internet Explorer has garnered only 30 percent market share. "Most people would call that a failure," he said.

He didn?t stop there. Alluding to Bill Gates?s address to the same crowd yesterday, Barksdale said: "Bill said the browser should be free. Well, I think the operating system should be free," drawing cheers from the crowd.

Asked why Navigator is not free, he replied that "most people over the age of six know that free isn?t free" because most things that seem to be free come with strings attached.

"It?s like candy attached to a gossamer string that keeps getting tugged until you realize you are in a dark cave, and then you feel scared," he said, equating that scenario to users being tied to Microsoft-only solutions.

Barksdale backed off on his attacks against the software giant when asked if he was running his business based on pitching great Netscape products or on scaring people into not buying Microsoft products.

"We admire Microsoft; it is a great company." He added his point was to let users know the dangers of going with a single-vendor product strategy.

Barksdale noted that the rivalry between the two companies is a boon for users because both Netscape and Microsoft are trying to leapfrog each other in terms of better products and better features. He said if there were no Netscape, Microsoft would not have embraced the Internet as quickly.

He also cited Gates?s book, The Road Ahead, as an example of this lack of Internet vision on the part of Microsoft. The book, which came out in November 1995, talked about the information superhighway but there was no hint of how significant the Internet would become to the information technology industry. Gates himself has admitted to being slow to grasp the Net's impact to computing.

"Netscape is the best thing to happen to Microsoft shareholders," Barksdale added. "The worst thing for Microsoft shareholders would be to not have a Netscape."