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Study: Navigator ahead in office

Netscape increases its lead over Microsoft's IE as the primary browser used in North American corporations, according to a new study.

Netscape Communications' Navigator has increased its lead over Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the primary browser used in North American corporations, according to a new study.

According to the report released today by Zona Research, 60 percent of the 113 enterprises questioned said they use Navigator as their default browser, while 40 percent said they use Internet Explorer. But lest Netscape start resting on its laurels, the browser battle is far from over.

Zona's study follows a report last month by International Data Corporation, which also found that Navigator's share beats IE's in the medium and large-sized business market. But when all of Navigator's markets are taken into account--home, small, medium-sized, and large businesses, as well as government and education--Netscape's shares actually drop, IDC analyst Joan Carol Brigham said.

According to that study, Navigator's market share dropped from just over half the installed base at the end of 1997 to two-fifths by midyear 1998.

If anything, the two studies together conclusively show two things: that the browser battle is still going strong and that it is being fought on several fronts. In fact, one browser may end up dominating one market while flagging in another, analysts from both Zona and IDC say.

"Without a doubt, it's a Coke and Pepsi world," said Clay Rider, vice president and chief analyst with Zona. And, he said, the battle is likely to rage for quite some time: "For the forseeable future I don't see either Coke or Pepsi putting each other out of business."

When the Zona study came out, Netscape executives said that the company is focusing its efforts on its Netcenter portal and that the browser war was no longer a top priority.

But since then, the company also has made moves to marry the two sides of its business together, with a heavy emphasis on the enterprise market. The new strategy includes offering businesses a way to customize their own portal offerings, using Netscape's Netcenter. It is not clear, however, whether there is a market demand for such a product.

Today's findings also come just as Netscape launches new content enhancements to its Netcenter site.

Zona researchers attribute the rise in share of Netscape's browser to Navigator being made available at no cost earlier this year. They say users continue to find Netscape to be a viable option.

Ryder added, however, that numbers can also be deceptive. While Netscape was found to dominate among the 113 companies with 20 employees or more that Zona surveyed, many had installed both browsers. And when people said they used one browser more than another, that usage was not weighted.

In other words, someone with that answer might be using Navigator 51 percent of the time or 99 percent of the time, he said.

Also significant, for the first time since such numbers have been tracked beginning in 1996, no respondent indicated a third-party product was their browser of primary use.

And despite Internet Explorer's moderate decrease as the primary browser amongst companies, the study found that corporations are increasingly making policies that dictate which browser their employees can use. When they do, they tend to favor IE.

When asked if their companies encourage or require use of a particular browser, 63 percent of those surveyed said their companies had such policies.

Of the respondents whose companies had policies in effect, 54 percent said Microsoft's browser was the standard, while 46 percent were asked to use Netscape's Navigator or Communicator.

However, compared to Zona's most recent browser war study released in July, Netscape has made headway in that race as well. That earlier report found that 55 percent of companies that have a browser policy use Microsoft's Internet Explorer, compared to the 45 percent that use Netscape.

The study also revealed that the 4.0 versions of both Microsoft's and Netscape's browsers are the primary products in use.

"Corporate browser policies continue to greatly impact browser usage within the enterprise," Ryder stated. "And we see from this study that 84 percent of IE in use as the primary browser is policy driven."

Zona said policies backing IE are due in large part to the fact that IE 4.0 is an integral part of Windows 98, that Microsoft has continued to make inroads in the corporate marketplace, and that numerous distribution agreements have been made with service providers and other software companies.

In July, Zona found that 54 percent of the randomly selected technology professionals personally prefer the Netscape browser, compared to 45 percent for Microsoft. p>