Journalists and analysts from all over the world crowded into the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco for Netscape?s 'strategy day' on Thursday, proving that CEO Jim Barksdale and co-founder Marc Andreessen still have star appeal.
But it was telling that it took the company a whole day to explain its new strategy ? even though it is based around just a handful of products.
For instance, a key concept in Netscape?s plans is the 'Enterprise service provider', which Netscape alternately defines as an Internet service provider with Intranet and Extranet offerings, or as the IT division in a large enterprise that provides similar services internally, or as a large corporation that trades electronically with its suppliers, partners and customers.
Netscape now sees ESPs as its main target customers. This is an important change of focus - no longer is Netscape trying, in the words of Andreessen, to ?sell every product to every customer via every channel?. Instead, the company has carved itself out a rather promising niche.
And even if the ESP concept remains a bit hazy, the company now appears to have a pretty clear idea of its market. It consists of very large companies (that will develop their own ecommerce networks) and service providers.
The other key concept in the new Netscape strategy is the Internet Portal. This one is a bit of a puzzler, too. Few people had ever heard the term until just a few months ago. An Internet Portal is a hub or gateway site - a place where Internet users start their search for information or entertainment.
The key goal for a Web portal is to attract as many users as possible ? and then keep them on the site as long as possible, exposing them to targeted ads. Portals do this by offering on their own site a great deal of what the consumer is looking for: email, yellow pages, entertainment news, some online shopping.
Netscape itself has only just started to refer to its Netcenter site as a portal (the company used to prefer the term hub). Now the company says it wants to be the leading Internet portal by 2000.
Until now, Netcenter has been a rather unremarkable Web site ? unremarkable, except for the huge number of visitors. Almost every Netscape browser, by default, starts up by going to Netscape?s home page. It also returns there whenever the home button is clicked ? unless the user manually edits the browser settings.
Surprisingly, it wasn?t until 1997 that Netscape became aware of the amazing marketing potential this represented. And only since the beginning of 1998 has Netscape been positioning Netcenter as a core part of its strategy.
Since then, Netscape has partnered with Excite, CNet and many other search and content providers to construct a faithful clone of Yahoo?s market leading portal. As the demo?s at the Netscape strategy day showed, the results are convincing but not stunning.
But, more importantly, Netscape appears to have figured out how this portal idea fits in with the other half of Netscape?s business ? the ESPs.
Netscape is betting that portal sites will become as important for the corporate market as they have for consumers. That they will become the focal point for ecommerce, the place where businesses meet, trade and partner with each other.
It hopes that companies will be willing to pay to have their corporate Web sites hosted on Netcenter, rather than on some other Web server. ?Netcenter gives you the critical mass of users," said Andreessen.
He went as far as to say that Internet software providers that don?t have their own portal site to offer, will be at a disadvantage. That may be a bit of a stretch.
A possible downside is that Netscape, the portal-and-hosting company, will compete with the customers of Netscape, the Internet software company.
Andreessen says this won?t be a problem. He told 'VNU Newswire' that Netscape will actually not be doing much Web hosting itself. Rather, it will find third parties to offers such hosting services on Netcenter. Which does tend to weaken his earlier point that having a portal will be such a crucial competitive advantage.
If the synergistic link between ESPs and portals remains to be proven, another link appears more promising. Netscape is trying to tie its browser into its Netcenter site, leveraging the browser?s 56 per cent market share to attract users to its site ? and assuring that its site optimally uses new browser features.
Mike Homer, who heads the Netcenter business, brushed aside concerns about tying the browser to a specific Web site. Wouldn?t Microsoft get pounded if it attempted the same, we asked? ?The law clearly states that if you?re a monopoly, you have to abide by certain special rules," said Homer. ?We?re not a monopoly, we can do this."
Homer points out that Netscape is publishing the sourcecode of its browser, so any other portal company can go out and develop a customised browser for its own site. Which may be true, but it?s still a marked departure from Netscape?s previous principled stance on universal Web standards.
Netscape does appear to have turned an important corner. The company looks and sounds much more focused than it has ever been. It has also considerably scaled back its ambitions.
But its new strategy poses a number of risks. Perhaps Internet portals will go the same way that Internet push companies went - nowhere. No one has yet proved that there is any money to be made out of them.
And even if portals become as important in the business market as Netscape appears to think, it remains to be seen whether the synergy between Netscape?s software offering and its Web site really pays off. Or whether Netcenter turns out to be no more than a distraction from the company's core business.
Cotton seedling freezes to death as Chang'e-4 shuts down for the Moon's 14-day lunar night
Fortnite easily out-earns PUBG, Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018
Meteor showers as a service will be visible for about 100 kilometres in all directions
Saturn's rings only formed in the past 100 million years, suggests analysis of Cassini space probe data
New findings contradict conventional belief that Saturn's rings were formed along with the planet about 4.5 billion years ago