NetCaster to ship with next Communicator Suite

Netscape has made the latest move in the battle with Microsoft to define the emerging push-technology market, announcing that NetCaster, a push client component, will be available with the fourth beta version of Communicator Web client.

Netscape has made the latest move in the battle with Microsoft to define the emerging push-technology market, announcing that NetCaster, a push client component, will be available with the fourth beta version of Communicator Web client, which is due in several weeks.

Netscape has also lined up 20 publishers, including ABCNews.com, CNN and CBS Sportsline, to provide content for NetCaster (code-named Constellation) and says that NetCaster will support 10 channels for corporate use.

But for IS managers, the primary issue with push technology isn't how to let browser users receive more information, but how to control the information travelling on their intranets.

"Too much of a good thing affects productivity," says Richard Lester, vice-president of information services at Associated Grocers, a wholesale grocer in Seattle. "I'm going to control this pretty tightly by setting up a fairly narrow funnel and actually passing judgment on each piece."

To that extent, Netscape says the AutoAdmin component in Communicator Pro, plus a separately available Administration Kit, will let IS managers preconfigure and lock down Communicator preferences, including NetCaster channels.

But Microsoft maintains that without supporting the Channel Definition Format (CDF), Microsoft's proposed standard for categorising pushed content, Netscape can't provide the granularity of content control that IS managers will need. Netscape says it doesn't need CDF because it can provide developers with the push features they need using Java, JavaScript and HTML.

Analysts say the two NetCaster features truly important to corporate users are software distribution, through integration with Marimba's Castanet technology, and location-independence via a feature called Webtop.

The Castanet technology will distribute Java applets from Corel and Lotus and will be enhanced to distribute non-Java applications, Marimba officials say.

Webtop lets users define a personalised interface with their favourite channels, network files and local files. Users can access their Webtops, minus the local files, from any Communicator-equipped computer.

"That will provide a much more dramatic change in people's lives than push," says Tiernan Ray, an analyst at Technologic Partners, a consulting company in New York.

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