The emerging battle for dominance in the messaging and groupware markets took a step forward in Tokyo this week, when Netscape president and CEO Jim Barksdale used the Net & Com '97 show throw another verbal jab at competitors Lotus and Microsoft.
Speaking at a keynote and expanding his message in a press briefing later in the day, Barksdale said his two key competitors are pitching proprietary software that will not give businesses the flexibility that can be attained through products based on open Internet standards, namley Netscape's forthcoming Communicator suite.
"I tend to look at the these products from the mind of a buyer. I don't want to be captured into any proprietary technology ever again," said Barksdale, who formerly served as CIO of Federal Express Corp.
The comments advanced a verbal battle, being played out at keynote speeches and in the press, between Netscape, Microsoft and Lotus, who are all vying to be the central interface and back-end for corporate "extranets," or stretched-out intranets that tie a company to its suppliers and customers.
Netscape argues that Microsoft's ActiveX and Lotus Notes are not "open email" systems unable to run on a range of platforms.
"You never know what OS platform your customer is using so I wouldn't want to develop an intranet using proprietary technology like ActiveX," he said. "We refer to Active X as "captive X" because it ensures that you can only communicate with your customers who are using 32-bit Windows platforms. It obviously is not an open standards product."
Communicator, meanwhile is built from the ground up using Internet protocols and Java supporting a range of platforms from Windows to Unix, he said.
Shipping in coming months, the Constellation suite will include Navigator 4.0, the Composer HTML authoring tool, Messenger email, Collabra groupware, and Conference real-time conferencing software.
Not to leave Lotus out, Barksdale said the company's moves to retrofitting its proprietary Notes with Internet technology is a testament to Netscape's own prowess.
"It demonstrates that Lotus and all the companies are now realizing what Netscape has been saying all along and that is that open standards are better for deployment in businesses than closed standards," Barksdale said.
The ongoing war of words puts Netscape in an awkward position given that IBM is one of the company's largest distributors. That fact was raised in ire last month by Lou Gerstner, chairman and CEO of Lotus parent company IBM, who publicly blasted Netscape for playing both enemy and friend.
Barksdale played down the fight saying that Lotus, Netscape and Microsoft will all compete in the market for intranet software which he said will reach US$10 billion in size by 2000.
"Certainly in this $10 billion market ... Notes will be a prominent player and they will have customers," he said. But "It's the new age of cooptition where on one hand the IBM company is a great partner of ours and on the other we are competitors. I think we can maintain that sort of relationship."