If NetScape was a ship, it would be called the Titanic. It may seem cruel, but the writing is on the wall for Netscape remaining an independent company. Last week's warning by Netscape that it was going to post a fourth-quarter loss of around $85 million - the extent of the fall shocked most analysts - knocked more than 20% off its share price in the space of single day. At last count, it was still falling. Even more disturbing is that when it came to giving the reasons for this expected slump, it told the truth. Call us cynics, but when companies post poor financial figures, there's usually a host of spurious reasons given: poor currency exchange rates abroad, inability to supply 'massive' market demand, design glitches, the incompatibility of other products with our perfect product, change of company focus, restructuring, torrential rain, car wouldn't start, and we couldn't sign that $1 billion deal because the Teletubbies were on the box. The truth rarely makes an appearance. Netscape, on the other hand, told the truth. When asked what the reasons were for the loss, it listed only one - Microsoft. The company claimed that intense competition in the browser wars with Microsoft was the main reason. In other words, Microsoft is closing fast. That's funny, because Netscape spent most of 1997 denouncing all of the research that showed Navigator's lead been eaten up by Internet Explorer. Can't wait to see the next statement: "When we said that IE wasn't really catching us that fast we meant it in a spiritual, holistic way." However, financial problems - which Netscape may overcome this year if it gets is enterprise software operation sorted - is not the long-term problem for Netscape. Right now, IE is gobbling up the distance between it and Navigator through a combination of Microsoft's size, marketing and the fact that IE is free (Navigator isn't) and just happens to be bundled with the world's most popular desktop operating system. It seems likely that IE will be the top browser before the end of the year. In addition, speculation holds that Netscape is just ripe for a takeover. Its falling share price and dismal results on the way, make it a good buy for companies with less successful Web efforts. Like IBM, for instance. Netscape has some great enterprise Web technologies, but if it's going to survive the Microsoft onslaught, it's going to need a heavy hitter to watch over it. Without it, Netscape will be out for the count in 12 - months, that is.
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