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Barksdale outlines Net progress

Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale says that the Net itself is already in its third wave.

SAN FRANCISCO--The fast adoption of "push" technologies caught even Netscape Communications (NSCP) by surprise, Netscape chief executive Jim Barksdale told a conference today.

"Two years ago, who besides the folks at PointCast would have thought that we'd replace the flying toasters as screensavers with news and advertising?" Barksdale said at the Giga Information Group e-commerce conference today.

Barksdale also admitted being caught off-guard by how quickly network computers (NCs) moved from a vision in the mind of Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison to trials in major companies. There also has been huge momentum behind Internet appliances like WebTV and Internet-enabled cellular phones, and personal digital assistants (PDAs), he said.

Barksdale suggested that the Net itself is already in its third wave--the rise of Web-based email and collaborative groupware. The first two waves were World Wide Web and intranets, both of which, needless to say, Netscape played a prominent role in developing.

Hitting a key Netscape theme, Barksdale also campaigned for "crossware," defined as applications for networked enterprises that are not platform-dependent, a dig at Microsoft's focus on Windows and Windows NT technologies.

But Barksdale downplayed the Netscape-Microsoft conflict over Internet standards, listing a wide variety of standards on which the Internet community has reached agreement.

Microsoft's Rich Tong, vice president of personal and business systems, likewise downplayed the standards conflict. "We have to have these standards for Internet commerce move forward," Tong said in a later presentation at the conference.

Barksdale also worried aloud about moves by local mayors to levy taxes on Internet commerce. (See related story)

"Once we start taxing the bits, it will slow things down," he said, acknowledging that interest by local politicos validates the Internet market.

Barksdale affirmed Netscape's strategy of focusing on intranets and the business market, over commercial applications, which were spun off into a joint venture with GE Information Systems called Actra Business Systems.

"We saw an opportunity to go upscale to get to business-to-business products that we were not attacking with our prior products," said Barksdale. "We have never seen commercial applications software as as big a market as the intranet market."

But he said Netscape wants to be a significant player in commercial, business-to-business applications over the next five years.