Netscape, the brand name that was once synonymous with the Internet with its spinning celestial "N" logo, will very quickly be dropped from the once high-flying company's many server and Internet application products.
The 100-day-old Sun-Netscape Alliance, the unique corporate triumvirate resulting from America Online Inc.'s purchase of Netscape Communications Corp. and simultaneous alliance with Sun Microsystems Inc. (AOL), will drop Netscape in favor of iPlanet on most of its products, alliance officials announced yesterday.
The loss of the Netscape name on such products as Netscape Application Server (NAS) and popular Netscape Web Server comes as a bitter-sweet development: nearly all the products and technology taking the iPlanet name were developed by Netscape. Yet that Netscape brand apparently did not hold favor with Sun and AOL.
"The fact that they replaced the Netscape name with a meaningless one argues that they saw a negative value to the Netscape brand. And that's only something companies do after they've done a lot of research," said Jeff Tarter, editor and publisher of Softletter, in Watertown, Massachusetts.
"The chickens have come home to roost on company behavior. Netscape burned a lot of developers. It's not surprising that their open-source effort (Mozilla.org) has not gone too far. A lot of people have a story about getting burned by Netscape," said Tarter.
The only Netscape-branded products remaining will be the Navigator and Communicator client products, but the future contour and full naming of those products may also be soon changing. A team of Sun and former Netscape engineers are at work on a new AOL client, and perhaps other types of Java-, XML-, and HTML-oriented clients.
With yesterday's announcement, the final peal of Netscape's death knell as a standalone entity may have been sounded. Even the corporate name -- the Sun-Netscape Alliance -- will be relegated to the fine print on the back of a package of CDs, or soon changed to do away with the Netscape name altogether.
The alliance yesterday also named longtime Sun employee, Bud Tribble, as the alliance's chief technology officer.
Tribble, the former vice president of architecture and technology for the Consumer Embedded Division at Sun, cofounded Next Computer, and worked with the software engineering group at Apple Computer during the development of the groundbreaking Macintosh interface.
The Sun-Netscape alliance, however, is being portrayed as a "pure play" Internet software entity -- even though its parentage, Sun and AOL, are a leading hardware vendor and major worldwide Internet services provider.
"I do believe we are on the way to being the first pure play Internet-commerce software company," said Mark Tolliver, general manager of the alliance, which projects that it will annually sell US$1 billion in goods and services within three years.
The alliance plans to release the next versions of its two application servers -- NAS and NetDynamics application server -- with their own names, but the servers will soon thereafter take on the iPlanet moniker. And an amalgamated server, predominantly based on the NAS code base, will arrive in early form late next winter as an iPlanet product, said Stewart Wells, senior vice president for alliance infrastructure products.
Specifically, NAS 4.0 with wide support for Java2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) technology, is due to arrive in four to six weeks; NetDynamics 5.0.1 is due in early September. An alliance server that combines the two, iPlanet Application Server 6.0, will arrive in beta form in early 2000; the full J2EE-based iPlanet Application Server family of three editions -- low-end, enterprise, and ISP -- will ship by the fourth quarter of 2000.
While the NetDynamics runtime will be phased out, the NetDynamics tools will be leveraged in the new NAS and iPlanet offerings. Customer commitments to the NetDynamics installed base will be honored, said Wells. Some analysts have questioned, however, how well older applications written to NetDynamics will be easily converted to and scale well on a NAS runtime.
On the mail servers side, Sun Internet Mail Server 4.0 arrived recently, and will be joined by Netscape Messaging Server 4.1 in four to six weeks. Both will assume the iPlanet name, and soon will be combined, again based mostly on the Netscape technology.
Netscape's ECExpert family of Internet commerce applications, once a joint effort with GE Information Systems, will become iPlanet products.
Moreover, Netscape Directory Server will become iPlanet Directory Server, but it will include components from the Sun Directory Server, which is being phased out. The same is true of the Web servers, Netscape Web Server become iPlanet, and it contains some Sun Web Server technology.
"All the product brands over the course of the next couple of releases, but by the end of year, will move to the iPlanet brand. In most cases they will go there immediately," said Tolliver. "As we release new products, we'll adopt the iPlanet brand."
In spending some $10 billion on Netscape, with help from Sun, AOL has now begun dismantling Netscape's collage of brands and products in order to pluck out the good parts and forge them into a new, as-yet untested brand formula family of e-commerce platform products.
"I don't think they bought Netscape for the brand. They bought the technology and customers and a lot of the engineering assets," said Tarter.
With the iPlanet name subsuming Netscape, Sun and AOL are taking some risks. The field for I-commerce platforms is rich and crowded, with many well-established brands -- such as IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle.
The cost for the Netscape technology comes at an especially high price because Sun has paid dearly for NetDynamics and the in-house development of at least three major products that are now only showing a return as components inside the iPlanet crop.