Netscape Communications has reached an important milestone as it ships final versions of its Communicator groupware client and SuiteSpot 3.0 server software, which it has been promising since last year.
Communicator 4.0, Netscape's attempt to offer much more than a browser client, also includes email, collaboration and Web authoring components. Optionally, it contains conferencing, calendaring, 3270 terminal emulation and management tools. SuiteSpot 3.0 features nine servers, including new Enterprise, Messaging and Collabra servers.
For some customers, particularly those in dire need of new mail systems, Communicator's release could not have come a moment too soon. For months, they have been testing the software, which most say is stable enough to begin deploying right away.
But not all of Netscape's corporate customers are so eager. Some have not even got around to testing the new products. Others see no business reason to make a switch just yet. And some want to wait for more mature versions.
One of Netscape's large corporate customers, for instance, says he would recommend that his company wait for the ".01" version of the client, based on inconsistencies he noted in the most recent beta.
"It just doesn't seem to have the feel that it's quite production-ready yet," says the user, who asked not to be identified. "[Netscape pursued] an ambitious schedule and I'm wondering what the big drive is behind it, except that Netscape wants to get mindshare before Microsoft comes in with its next release."
A promoter of cross-platform products, Netscape will release Communicator first on Windows 95 and NT. Unix and Macintosh releases will follow later this month, the company says.
But Communicator will be missing the Netcaster push component that the company initially claimed would be ready. Product manager Tim Hickman says a second Netcaster beta is due within two weeks, with the final version expected to ship within the next six weeks.
For most customers, that will not be a bother. But Netcaster's delay will not draw them to Netscape's side, either.
"The biggest component that would push us over to Communicator today would be Netcaster," says James Chung, an IS manager in charge of Web publishing and information delivery at Bay Networks.
When Bay licensed Netscape's client, the company did so strictly on the basis of the browser. Because that browser is still working fine, there is no pressing business need to upgrade to Communicator, Chung acknowledges.
Because Bay uses QualComm's Eudora email client and has standardised on Microsoft's FrontPage Web authoring tool, there is no urgent need to check out those Communicator components either, Chung says.
National Semiconductor is very interested in using Netscape's latest Enterprise Server to be able to talk to the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol-enabled Directory Server.
"We're going to use [the Directory Server] for a single sign-on for the intranet, so there'll be one user name space for the whole enterprise," says Glenn Newell, a senior engineering manager of intranet technology at National Semiconductor. Newell reported no problems with the server products to date.