Since 1995, writers have considered the area of basic Internet technology a two-horse race between Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash., and Netscape Communications Corp., of Mountain View, Calif. And it’s still true in 1998.
In one of the closest competitions of the 1998 Datamation Product of the Year awards, Communicator 4.5 from Netscape, nicknamed Gecko, edged out Microsoft’s BackOffice Server 4.0 to win by nine votes. Out of 773 votes cast, Communicator received 269 and BackOffice Server garnered 260. The race was complicated by the fact that Netscape’s product is a browser suite (an “enterprise version” including calendaring is also available), while Microsoft’s entry is an application suite that includes a Web server.
If you strip away strategies and rhetoric, however, what you’re left with is a call from MIS managers for Internet standards. Netscape, from the beginning, has insisted it would follow the standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium. While the company hasn’t always been true to that statement in the breach, it has generally sought to be true to the ideal. (Netscape’s decision, announced in April 1998, to “open source” the code for Navigator was the best evidence to date that the company remains committed to that ideal.) Like Apache, the winner in the e-commerce and extranet category, the price of Communicator 4.5 is also right: It’s free.
For that reason, Netscape (now part of America Online Inc. of Dulles, Va.) has maintained a loyal following among MIS managers, replacing NetWare from Novell Inc., of Provo, Utah, as the basic infrastructure alternative to Microsoft, according to our polling results. (The eagerly anticipated Novell NetWare V.5 finished fourth in the balloting, with 74 of the 773 votes.)
Netscape’s top honor is well deserved, says David Card, an analyst at Jupiter Communications Inc., in New York City. “From the point of view of marketshare, Netscape still seems to be the leading browser,” he says. “The 4.5 product is real solid; it’s very stable and not buggy. Many of its features are interesting. It’s even more graceful than the [Microsoft Internet] Explorer 5.0 beta.”
Bob Kelly, president of CDKnet.com, also in New York City, customizes Communicator for clients such as Citicorp and Atlantic Records. “It’s head and shoulders above any other tool-set and saves us a lot of time and money,” he says. Kelly says he’s able to add support for full-motion video, real-time audio, and e-commerce within a single day “and have something that blows away anything.”
Runners up need not fear
Despite Netscape’s success, Microsoft’s BackOffice has proven itself to be a powerful application suite. Harley Manning, a senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., says simplicity is the reason, and calls this software, ironically enough, the “business version of America Online.”
“It’s a simple install, you know what you get, and you know whom to call. Simplicity wins,” says Manning. “There may be more powerful databases on the market and better e-mail servers. There may even be products with better integration. But BackOffice comes in a box with a fixed price, has ample help, and delivers on its promises. That’s a powerful combination.”
Thousands of corporate customers agree, making BackOffice a de facto standard in many small businesses. Kirk Kepley, executive vice president of Generator Corp., a Chicago-based Web developer, is one of the many who use Backoffice. Kepley has used the software for clients like Staples and come away impressed. “You have to put a stake in the ground and choose a limited number of tools,” if a staff is to become truly expert. BackOffice, he adds, has yet to let him down.
In third place, with 105 votes, is RealSystem G2 Enterprise Edition from RealAudio Inc., of Seattle. RealSystem G2 is designed specifically for companies that want to add streaming video to their intranets for its training capabilities and meetings.
RealSystem G2 is still somewhat of a novelty, says Forrester’s Manning, adding that time will tell whether it succeeds in real offices. “Americans still go turn on their TVs, and when they’re on their computers they’ll settle for Real because that’s what they can get. When we get to true multimedia standards, it will be a more interesting story” he predicts. Still, given there is a real need and desire to deliver good quality audio and video to the desktop. “This is a nice first step,” says Manning.
Dana Blankenhorn has covered computing since 1983 and now edits A-Clue.Com (http://www.a-clue.com), a free weekly e-mail newsletter covering electronic commerce. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.