By integrating its browser with its Netcenter 2.0 'portal' site, Netscape hopes it will have an edge over competitors such as market leader Yahoo.
Mike Homer, executive vice president and general manager of Netcenter, said on Thursday that the company aims to be the Internet?s leading portal by 2000.
Web portals are sites such as Yahoo that aggregate Internet content from other sources and provide a gateway to the Net.
In a two-month initiative dubbed 'Project 60', Netscape has signed a number of deals with partners such as Excite and CNet to catch up with the offering of market leader Yahoo.
Mike Homer said Netcenter currently gets 8.2 million visitors a day. Data from Media Metrix suggests that, in April, Netscape?s Web site was the second most visited site by business users, and the third most visited by home users.
At this moment, Netcenter has five million registered users, Homer claimed. Netscape?s goal is to convert all 70 million Navigator browser users into registered Netcenter members, enabling the company to obtain a profile of each one of these users, allowing for targeted advertising.
As an incentive, Netscape intends to offer a wide array of free services to those who register.
Project 60 has provided Netscape with the 'basics': Netcenter 2.0, set to debut by the end of the month, features a new search engine (co-branded with Excite), a topical directory featuring 17 'channels' or sections, news content, email and personal home pages.
The new look Netcenter 2.0 bears strong visual resemblance to the Yahoo site, the market leading Internet portal. It offers the same basic layout - a Web search window, a number of links to features such as white and yellow pages, and a listing of channels.
The next step, said Homer, is to differentiate by integrating its Web site with its browser.
A new version of Communicator, currently referred to as Communicator 4.x, will enter beta in July. It will sport a number of new features that leverage Netcenter.
One is Smart Browsing. Instead of having to type an exact URL address such as www.ford.com, users will be able to type in a company or brand name such as 'Ford' and be directed to the company?s home page. A term such as 'Sports' will lead the user immediately to a section of Netcenter. If no such match can be found, the Netcenter search engine is used to generate a search results page.
Netscape also has plans to turn personalised Web pages into true Web based personal desktops.
The 'My Netscape' feature on Netcenter 2.0 goes beyond similar offerings from competitors. Not only will it offer a personalised selection of news stories, but also access to Web based applications such as a calendar and address book. By using Netcenter to store their personal data, Netscape argues, users will have access to this data from wherever they log in.
Another feature to leverage Netcenter will be Smart Update. The site will detect which versions of the browser and any browser add-ons the user is employing, and will be able to suggest immediate ? and automatic ? updates.
Users will be able to turn the My Netscape page into their default Web page by clicking a single button, instead of having to manually change their browser settings.
Homer said Netcenter will also to move into financial services. He said the company was looking for a partner to offer a Netscape branded credit card, and would also provide members with an online 'wallet', storing their credit card data.
While Netscape is initially targeting consumers, Homer said small and medium-sized businesses would be the next target for Netcenter.
There will be a company level sign-up for Netcenter, and companies will have access to tools to manage Netcenter email addresses. Companies will be able to create a customised Netcenter, with company specific content added to the basic services.
Netscape will also increasingly position Netcenter as a hosting platform for customers? ecommerce applications, Homer said.
Homer said Netscape?s browser market share, after a long period of decline, has stabilised since the company decided to give the browser away for free. He said the browser now has 56 per cent share, with even a 'flat-to-upward' trend.
Homer said the publicity around the Department of Justice?s antitrust case against Microsoft was helping Netscape regain browser market share.
Communicator 4.x is expected to enter beta in July. In parallel, Netscape is working on Communicator 5.0, of which the source code will be public. It will include input from third party developers and from volunteers out of the Internet community. A first beta of Communicator 5.0 is expected by the end of 1998.
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