Like heavily armed dreadnoughts facing each other in a lifting fog, Netscape Communications and Microsoft are about to open fire in the latest encounter of the war for the Internet.
Netscape got off the first shot this weekend, when its Communicator 4.0 software for using the World Wide Web went on sale in stores nationwide. The introduction is being called the biggest in the company’s history.
Retail versions include a Web browser, an e-mail program and some features that are not included in the version that can be downloaded from the Web.
Some industry analysts think Netscape’s primary motive in staging its introduction now is to thwart Microsoft, which on September 30, will officially release its latest Web browsing package, Internet Explorer 4.0.
That introduction is expected to be Microsoft’s most ambitious since Windows 95.
“Netscape is doing what any good company should do, and that is defend its turf against the absolute onslaught by Microsoft,” said analyst Michael Stanek of Lehman Brothers. “They can’t let Microsoft run roughshod over them. It would be a big mistake to yield anything at this point.”
Mountain View-based Netscape still commands some three-fourths of the market for Web browsers, but Microsoft has made inroads steadily for the past year and a half. It has done so by matching Netscape’s technology and by giving away the Internet Explorer for free via the Web.
Communicator has been available over Web since June, but it’s not free. Users who download it are supposed to pay $59, but few people do.
Earlier this month, Netscape began operating its browser, Navigator, separately over the Internet for $39. It is designed for people who just want to browse the Net and don’t need all the features of Communicator. It does not include e-mail.
Netscape also sells its browsers in stores - mainly to people who are just getting started on the Web and are uncomfortable with downloading programs.
Some 9,000 stores will carry Netscape’s new software, including computer superstores like CompUSA, warehouse stores such as Costco and mainstream retailers including Target and Wal-Mart.
Three versions of Netscape Communicator will be offered:
Internet Access Edition, which will include the browser, e-mail and other features that are standard with Communicator. It also will let users start Internet accounts with five Internet service providers. It will sell for a street price of $59, with a $30 rebate available to previous Netscape customers.
Deluxe Edition, which features 16 Internet utilities and plug-in programs, including one that lets you scan for Internet viruses. It will sell for $79, with a $30 rebate available to anyone.
Publishing Suite, which comes with a version of NetObjects’ Fusion, a program for creating professional Web sites. It will go for $129 with a $40 rebate for anyone.
Earlier this year, Netscape gave the impression that it was, if not forsaking consumers, concentrating most of its energies on business users. But the new marketing push suggests it now wants to reclaim the territory on which it staked its fortune two years ago.
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