Andreessen accents extranets at European DevCon

Marc Andreessen put the accent on extranets as he kicked off Netscape's first developer's conference in Europe, and noted that within a year developers should be able to use Java to create just about any application 'short of a flight simulator'. He also talked up his company's recent purchase of Kiva Software and Actra Business Systems -- a joint venture it formed last year with GE Information Services (GEIS) to develop enterprise software applications for electronic commerce, which he said would serve to bolsterNetscapes business-to-business commerce offerings.

Marc Andreessen put the accent on extranets as he kicked off Netscape's first developer's conference in Europe, and noted that within a year developers should be able to use Java to create just about any application.

Netscape has been touting its move into extranet applications since at least March, when it coined the term Crossware -- a catch-all term for its electronic commerce software based on HTML, Java and JavaScript. Now the company's recent purchase of Kiva Software and Actra Business Systems -- a joint venture it formed last year with GE Information Services (GEIS) to develop enterprise software applications for electronic commerce -- will serve to bolster the company's extranet -- or business to business commerce -- offerings.

One advantage of Netscape integrating Kiva products, is that they let application servers tie into databases and ERP software such as SAP, Baan, Oracle as well as letting developers connect Microsoft's DCOM object model to the industry standard CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture), Andreessen said.

As for Actra software, it combines with Netscape products to let companies implement electronic data interchange (EDI) on top of Internet, Andreessen said.

However, one developer here pointed out that the cost of Actra's EDI and electronic commerce tools means that they are only within the reach of large companies. Andreessen acknowledged this point, but added that Netscape plans to change Actra's prices and in the long run make Actra's applications suitable for small and medium-sized companies too. In the meantime, small companies can make do with Netscape's core development products, which Andreessen admitted do not provide Actra's out-of-the-box ease of use.

Netscape is also working on providing a means to offer users the choice of a number of interfaces for use with a single application. This will mean the addition of a layer to software applications that will let users -- or IS managers -- choose from a number of interfaces written in different languages such as HTML or Java. The layer should let users of an application switch from one interface to another.

Andreessen addressed one developer's concerns over the ability of Java to build heavy-weight applications. Netscape recognises that over the next 18 months it needs to tackle technical issues with JavaSoft and IBM. But Andreessen was optimistic that by this time next year developers will be hard-pressed to find an application "short of a flight simulator" that cannot be developed in Java. Andreessen also brushed off the notion that his company does not provide full support for Microsoft and added that the company will boost its ActiveX support in Communicator 4.0.

Other plans on the horizon, according to Andreessen include the following:

-- Within the next two months Netscape will announce a partnership that will enable it to offer its enterprise server for MVS mainframes.

-- The company will make available a beta version of Communicator 5.0 incorporating Gemini, Navigator's new rendering engine, in the first quarter of next year. It will launch further beta versions with more functionality during 1998.

-- Netscape plans to invest in employees to provide services and support, boosting employees in this field to 600 by the end of 1998, up from a current 250.

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