Constellation - Netscape's next-generation Web client that promises to provide a universal interface for users regardless of the content type, delivery mechanisms, or platform - is finally emerging in concrete detail.
The company is shooting for a June beta-version release of Constellation, says Tom Tsao, a Constellation product manager at Netscape. However, the second beta release of Netscape's forthcoming universal Communicator client has only just gone out the door.
This means users will be able to log on to an intranet from any system, go through a verification process, and receive their own desktop interface - complete with bookmarks, links to desktop or network applications, and their choice of LiveSites.
LiveSites are windows that contain information or applets pushed from corporate intranets or third parties such as PointCast. LiveSites can include shared project spaces where workers can collaborate.
Other features include Realtime Notification and InfoStream. Realtime Notification is a point-to-point notification engine that lets a user send an urgent message that immediately pops up on the recipient's desktop. InfoStream is a toolbar that, when clicked, launches InfoBlocks - ticker-tape information running across the bottom of the screen.
Netscape will also offer IS managers a two-tier approach to implementing LiveSites, Tsao said. The first tier uses a configuration file to pull and cache Web pages specified by users at given intervals. This requires no Java programming and no special server software.
The second tier makes use of Marimba's Castanet tuner software. Users can install Castanet servers to push Java applets and other content to Constellation desktops.
These features will be added to the Constellation version of Communicator, which also includes browser, email, groupware, and calendar components.
Kevin Redding, manager of Web development at Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies company in East Hartford, Connecticut, says he likes the idea of the HomePort and push-delivery options but "jumping from a familiar platform such as [Windows] to a totally new desktop ... is a lot of change to throw at people."
Netscape's strategy is similar to Microsoft's work to combine Outlook, Internet Explorer, ActiveX, and Windows into a unified client. The key difference between them is that Constellation will run on 17 operating systems and other platforms, whereas Microsoft's client will run only on Microsoft operating systems, Tsao says.