Netscape will unleash a head-on challenge to Microsoft Windows by mid-1997, when it ships its Constellation desktop manager, demonstrated at Comdex last week.
Constellation manages and organises desktop applications, including Microsoft?s, on the Intranet, and lets users get data and documents from any network on to the desktop. It will ship in mid-1997 as part of Netscape Communicator, the client part of the company?s Intranet-based groupware offering, and is expected to compete head-on with Windows 95.
Constellation is very similar to Microsoft's planned Active Desktop. Both focus on pieces of information, rather than windows, as the desktop environment. Communicator will provide the links to applications for Constellation, making Microsoft Windows or NT just one section on a screen of options.
However, analysts such as Zona Research, which has studied the Microsoft-Netscape tussle in detail, question whether Netscape will offer any real incentive for users to move away from Microsoft technologies. "It's an alternative shell to Windows, but where's the added value?" said one analyst there.
The software will gather information that is relevant to the individual user such as files, bookmarks and email from different sources and transparently replicate it to the server. This means users will no longer need to update applications on their own desktops because the information will be ?pushed? to them. Users will be instantly notified of updates and be reminded of important events.
Tim Barksdale, Netscape?s chief executive, said: ?While the first two waves of the Internet focused on users being able to easily find information the market of the third wave, which we are entering, is that information finds the user. Our new products will have intelligence to help you focus on the information you care about.?
Netscape said it aimed to reduce the problems of managing overlapping windows and present users with a full-screen Java-based environment.
Also at Comdex, Netscape outlined a new method of designing Web sites, called Live Sites. This technology creates sites that offer users features, such as automatic updating, where information is customised and 'pushed' to their desktops. Although push technology exists, Live Sites would be built using generic components so that pushed information services could be integrated more easily. Netscape is working on specifications and software developers' kits, which will be open, but these are some way off - although 'pushed' information will be critical to Constellation, and Netscape already has individual applications of this type running.
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