The announcement by Netscape Communications Corp. in mid-October of its Netscape Communicator collaborative client software signals the arrival of a major competitor in the groupware market.
Communicator is the result of combining technology from the former Collabra Software Inc.--which Netscape acquired in September 1995--with Netscape's well-known Internet and intranet-based Web products. Communicator integrates five components: Netscape Navigator 4.0 browser software; Netscape Composer HTML authoring software; electronic mail; group discussion software; and realtime collaboration software. A professional edition also incorporates calendar scheduling and centralized user administration. Release of the components is expected in early 1997.
The result is expected to become prime competition for IBM's Lotus Notes groupware, which has dominated the market. Lotus has added Web capability to Notes in the form of its Domino software, which some loyal Notes users have latched onto as a way of moving them into the Web era.
"Netscape is simply saying that they see that collaboration is going to be a big thing, so they're going to use the rewritten Collabra technology," says Hadley Reynolds, director of research for Delphi Consulting in Boston. "The rumor was that since Netscape had bought Collabra--a Notes competitor--that it was also the death of Notes. We'll see exactly what happens. But Lotus has already conceded that [Netscape] will be a major deployment choice of many people. I think it will be a new competitive era for Lotus to deal with."
"Where Netscape Communicator is expected to shine is in its ability to communicate outside the walls of a company."
For its part, Netscape puts heavy emphasis on its efforts to make Communicator the open systems choice, basing it on open standards and making its parts interchangeable with other vendors' open standards-based products. "Ours is a modular, distributed approach vs. a monolithic, service approach," says Ben Horowitz, group product manager for Netscape's messaging and collaboration servers in Mountain View, CA. "We think that's a far more cost-effective and far more scalable and open architecture to build on."
Where Netscape Communicator is expected to shine is in its ability to communicate outside the walls of a company. "A groupware solution in 1997 or 1998 where you can only communicate inside your company is kind of like a telephone system in 1990 where you can only communicate inside your company," Horowitz says. "It's not going to be real competitive for MIS." However, Netscape also will have to deal with the security fears of potential users as well as overcome Notes' large customer base and IBM's marketing prowess.
Communicator is based on the user interface of the familiar Netscape Navigator, which most Web users already employ as their browser. Netscape claims an installed base of 45 million computers for Navigator. Communicator will support 17 operating environments and make information that users create accessible to anyone with the appropriate permissions on the Internet or intranets. Netscape says it plans initially to support 11 languages with the groupware product.
In addition, Communicator comes with the recently unveiled Netscape Inbox Direct service. Subscribers to Inbox Direct get messages with Web formatting put into their in-boxes from more than 40 companies, including a number of online publishers such as the HotWired Network, The New York Times and Times Mirror magazines.
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