This year will be the year of the custom portal, with customers creating their own personal ones and vendors making money from allowing third parties to have access to those customers.
And delivering such systems over the Internet will also lead to the mass customisation that the industry has talked about for so long, according to Jim Barksdale, former chief executive of Netscape Communications, at the Gartner Symposium in San Diego on Monday. America Online (AOL) formally acquired Netscape last Wednesday.
?If you believe in one to one marketing, this year will be the year of the custom portal. It will be, I?ll give you a PC and a modem for free and you give me the first seven mouse clicks," he said. "People will pay to get your customers, but you?ve got to give them a way to do it and to go from silicon to eyeballs. Its about customers and partners, software and hardware and this will lead to major changes in mass customisation,? he continued.
He added that although Netscape?s Netcenter portal generated $60 million per quarter compared with $100 million per quarter from its software, its portal business was perceived as more valuable to the markets. The way an organisation accounted for sales of enterprise software made it more difficult to forecast turnover, however, which was one of the reasons Netscape had agreed to the AOL takeover .
?We?ve trained customers to wait until the last day of the quarter to pay because they know they?ll get discounts, but it?s harder to predict revenues. That?s why I love AOL. AOL provides services, which means it knows what its revenues are at the start of each month,? he explained.
But he refused to be drawn on whether AOL would ditch Microsoft?s Internet Explorer (IE) browser as the front end to its client software in future in favour of Netscapes?.
?AOL will continue to distribute IE in its client, but the Netscape browser will be in ICQ, which will make it easier to download. AOL has said it has a lot of customers on Windows and it will not be involved in religious wars over browsers,? he said.
He continued: ?Our Gecko rendering engine is available under open source licensing and will be part of the ICQ deployment. AOL has more ICQ customers than it has for its client and has no plans to shift the AOL client to Gecko or Netscape today, although things can change.?
As for Netscape?s alliance with Sun, Barksdale said that the hardware manufacturer had agreed to pay AOL $100 million per quarter for the next 12 quarters to jointly develop the Netscape client and resell it.
?That?s a lot. It?s the same revenue we derive from the software now, but it shows Sun has no plans to walk away. Sun has a salesforce of 7,000 and we have one tenth of that, so Sun believes it will sell more software and hardware. It?s like IBM?s acquisition of Lotus, which reckons it makes $6 on hardware sales for every $1 of software. It?s life, the integrated solution,? he explained.
But he added that once he left Netscape, he had no plans to start or head up any more companies. ?I?m not ever going to have another board of directors to answer to or employees and staff looking up to me. I plan to make investments in start ups and to be on boards,? he concluded.
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