Although Netscape's move to offer a stand-alone version of its Netscape Navigator 4.0 browser removed a thorn from IBM's foot, the relationship between it and IBM's Lotus subsidiary is likely to remain prickly in the short term.
Two residual irritants are the lagging integration of Lotus Notes and Navigator and the decision to quit bundling Netscape SuiteSpot server software on IBM's RS/6000 in favor of Lotus Domino. However, IBM and Netscape have one obvious long-term goal: the promotion of Java, which both companies further committed to last week.
Last April, Lotus CEO Jeffrey Papows drew a line in the sand, saying Lotus would not bundle Netscape's Communicator Web suite with Notes because it overlaps with the collaborative functions of Notes.
When Netscape unbundled Navigator from the Communicator suite two weeks ago, Lotus said it would offer users a choice of Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) browsers with Notes 4.6 client, due to ship this week. However, because of development time lost during the tiff with Netscape, IE currently is the better integrated browser, Papows said.
"Netscape has to make up for lost time because Microsoft has done a stunning job of working with us to integrate very deeply IE with the Notes [4.6] client," Papows said.
For instance, Lotus has wrapped Notes agents around Explorer 4.0, something Notes users have applauded, said Cliff Reeves, Lotus senior director for Domino, in Cambridge, Mass.
"To us, IE looks like a valuable Windows component as opposed to being just another application," Reeves said.
Reeves added that similar integration with Navigator won't be available until Netscape releases Navigator as JavaBeans, a product Netscape last week committed to shipping in early 1998.
"If we can get an ActiveX component equivalent of the browser we have already trained everyone on - Navigator - there would be a lot of interest," said John Chapman, director of planning and architectures at Amoco, in Chicago.
Even when the browser/Notes integration is smoothed out, Lotus and Netscape will continue to compete in the messaging and groupware space, and IBM will not resume its automatic bundling of SuiteSpot servers with the RS/6000, Papows said. Longer term, the view for the IBM/Netscape relationship looks brighter because both companies are so focused on Java and JavaBeans development.
"There's more interest in Java at this time than any legal subject I can think of," said Jim Barksdale, Netscape CEO. "It's a great opportunity for Netscape to be a partner with IBM."
And Netscape's endorsement of IBM's Network Computing Framework, Big Blue's blueprint for tying legacy systems to the Web, gives both companies a common ground to walk on.
"Because Netscape is the prime provider of access to the Web through its browser, we will work with them to make sure Navigator integrates smoothly with the enterprise," said Scott Hebner, manager of application development marketing at IBM's Software Group, in Somers, New York.
One example is the Java Porting and Tuning Center, announced last week by IBM, Netscape, and Sun.
One analyst also anticipates tighter links at the tools level.
"NetObjects and Visual Age Java will be closer linked to Netscape's products," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects, a Washington-based consultancy.
In addition, the companies could join forces to link their server-side offerings, such as Netscape's SuiteSpot applications and IBM's MQ Series middleware, for building document- and data-centric sites.
"What make sense is integration using Lotus Domino as a collaborative piece feeding up into a transaction server, which would be Netscape technology, feeding back into back-end systems, which would be IBM," said John Dunkle, president of Workgroup Strategic Services, a consultancy in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The relationship is vital to Netscape: IBM is Netscape's largest distributor, according to Barksdale.
And IBM and Netscape, along with Oracle and Sun, are betting they can promote Java and CORBA as a cross-platform object alternative to Microsoft's ActiveX.
Netscape and IBM's Lotus division: Are they friends or foes?
* Competitive issues: messaging and groupware servers; bundling with IBM platforms
* Cooperative issues: Java, JavaBeans, and tools; browser distribution with Lotus Notes; SuiteSpot-to-mainframe integration
Netscape plays to end-users
Moving to beef up its retail presence, Netscape plans to release this weekend three boxed Communicator products aimed at individual and small-business users.
Also, Netscape said it plans a major promotion in conjunction with computer superstores such as Staples and CompUSA.
"A lot of people said we were so focused on the enterprise, we forgot the end-user," said Jim Barksdale, Netscape CEO, at the Java Internet Business Expo in New York last week. "This is meant to address that."
The new packages include these products:
* Netscape Communicator Internet Access Edition, a $US59 Communicator version that includes tutorials and 90 days of installation assistance, a feature that sets up the dial-up protocols for existing accounts or new accounts with ISPs, the regional Bells, Earthlink, Concentric, and Netcom.
* Netscape Communicator Deluxe Edition, a $79 package aimed at power users that includes Web tools such as Norton Antivirus Internet Scanner, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and Sausage Software Jackhammer.
* Netscape Publishing Suite, a $129 package that includes all of the above, plus NetObjects Fusion Personal Edition.
The first two products will come with a $30 mail-in rebate offer and the last with a $40 rebate offer.