Competing with you-know-who
Do you think Navigator's going to be able to hold onto this 85 percent browser market share?
I wouldn't think we'd hold on to 85 percent, but we think we have a big start. We were the first to market; Microsoft has been delivering browsers now since last August. It's captured, I think, a 10 percent share, so things don't move as fast as people want to believe they do. But certainly the company is focused on this, and as clever as Microsoft is, with its huge amount of resources and extremely competitive nature, certainly it will capture some of this.
One of the best uses for browsers is to browse for a browser. And so as the market grows and it distributes Internet Explorer, 40,000 sites now let you click and download the Netscape Navigator. That's how we get most of our hits and most of our downloads. What happens is people bring both down and kind of play with them and then pick one. Just because you got one from your ISP doesn't mean that's the one you're going to stay with. I think it's extremely unrealistic to expect that just all of the sudden, next year [Microsoft] will have 85 percent and we'll have 10 percent.
What do you think is the more likely balance?
I think if it's a two-horse race that it's 50-50.
By next year?
Oh, I don't think quite that soon. Generally speaking, markets tend (depending on how many players are in it) to divide up because some people like vanilla and some people like strawberry. I don't try to kid myself, but I certainly think we can differentiate our product. I think it's still a better product and will continue to be a better product. Look, if Evian can differentiate water and compete with free water, certainly we've got a chance with something as sophisticated and complex and beautiful as computer software to differentiate our product. After all, our only focus here is Netscape.
That was always true when IBM focused on OS/2 as a better product. In everybody's estimate, it was a better product, but that in itself didn't amount to much.
Because Microsoft was first to market. I'm first to market here. I think being first to market carries a lot of weight.
If IBM had come out with OS/2 in 1981 instead of mid- and late '80s, what would have happened? That's the issue here. But I do think being first to market and more features and certainly the intensity of our focus are great advantages, but that doesn't mean that you win every battle.
I think we would have been very foolish to have ever thought Microsoft wouldn't have seen this as something so important. I think it has surprised us that it has taken the company as long as it has, but it's certainly not surprised us that it's here.
The fact that Microsoft is willing to continue to give it away for free as long as it takes, does that make a big difference?
Most people, an awful lot of people, get Navigator from an ISP who has paid me for it. The ISP doesn't charge them, so they get it for free. I think that we can continue to differentiate it and demand some price. We have to because that's our source of revenue. Microsoft can give it away and get money from the other end.
As Microsoft embeds the browser into the operating system, will users be less likely to switch?
Not really. On my screen and on most people's screens today, the Navigator or the Internet product is on the front. I very rarely look at the operating system front page and haven't in years or months. However, that's one way of integrating a product. That's an argument to be won or lost over the next year or two.
I think we've got a few tricks up our sleeves. I don't think that pulling your files up with an HTML browser is all that difficult a thing to do, and I think we can make the front page of the browser just as exciting an experience and just as full-function as you can make an operating system, in terms of searching your files on your hard drive and searching the Internet. We've always argued that HTML was a much better metaphor for a desktop page than these goofy icon things laid out on screens, where you can never find what you want to find if you've got a lot of stuff in there.
But your point is well-taken and certainly one we're acutely aware of. We don't want [Microsoft], by doing that, to all of a sudden pull everybody back into that keg. Windows is not a standard product. It's not open or Internet-compliant. We think that's a critical point here.
Can Microsoft do it? Sure it can do it. Can we pull those functions up into the client? Sure we can. We think that we have an awful lot to gain by doing things like that. It forces us to be more clever. That's good for the consumer.
Will Navigator become an operating system as Microsoft alleges?
No. We think it will be viewed as a platform, but certainly there are some functions that your operating system already does very well and we don't care to devote the resources to do those things. The reason Microsoft builds those products was to have independent software vendors like us build products to run on top of them. Here we build a product that runs on top of it and they say, "We want that one down in here." Now wait a minute!
Now, if you start doing things that are proprietary, be that marketing advantages or product advantages that in some way or another make it a unlevel field in a legal sense, then there are other avenues to take care of those things.
Such as what, the Justice Department?
Microsoft sent us a letter the other day telling us you can't have but 10 users connected to a Workstation NT server. The week before, the company had announced that it was taking that out of the product but wanted to leave it in the license just to protect everybody! Well, that's absurd. We've tested those products at a million hits a day. There's no reason to have an artificial governor. People put a lot of stress on servers all over the world and the vendor never says, "Oh, don't try that!" I think those are the kinds of things I'm suspicious of if you asked me. And we did file a complaint with the DOJ when they sent us that letter. That's a ridiculous position for them to take. I think that they probably regret it, quite frankly.
Look, we all push and shove and it's a competitive war; I don't mean to claim it isn't. I think, though, that they acted on something that they probably shouldn't have. The company's position is untenable and we will not abide by its position. It's just trying to force people to pay more for a product that has no other inherent advantages.
With Microsoft having an existing consent decree that was set up to allow other people to compete with them, particularly in the OS space or platform space, to then do things that would stop you from competing, that specifically violates its own consent decree that it agreed to just two years ago.
Certainly, we're in a very competitive market. That's good for everybody. That's good for us. It keeps us more on our toes. We're thinking probably more actively than we would if we didn't have any competitors, but I've never been in a business that didn't have a good competitor. I think a good competitor is almost a blessing; it keeps you really pushing out there. Both companies rise faster than they would have separately. If Netscape hadn't come along, would Microsoft be so focused on the Internet? I don't think so. That's good for its customers. We would wish them well. We've certainly created a good business for ourselves. We're the fastest growing software company in history.
NEXT: The Barksdale view