Netscape's intranet blitz, announced at the company's developer conference in New York this week, has drawn praise from developers, both for the products' new groupware features and their level of integration.
Its plans to unveil a Web client and a slew of servers in the first quarter of next year has been greeted enthusiastically. "The idea of the browser as your application platform is very good for us," says Noam Stopak, of McLean, Virgina-based Orion Scientific Systems, and one of more than 3000 developers at the conference. "It solves a lot of our software distribution problems and configuration management problems."
Netscape's just-announced Communicator, a beefed up Web client, packages email, discussion, Hypertext Markup Language authoring, audio and data conferencing and calendaring applications with the latest version of the Navigator 4.0 browser. New and updated members of its SuiteSpot server line include servers for messaging, discussion, streaming media, publishing/document management, and calendaring.
Netscape technology head Marc Andreessen used a conference keynote address to spell out the capabilities in the Netscape Open Network Environment (ONE) development environment, including advances in HTML and multimedia support, enriched Java and Java Script environments and improved integration with Microsoft technologies.
Netscape is positioning the client and servers as a matched set. But since the products are standards-based, a customer can substitute a piece from another vendor -- such as another mail server -- as long as the other vendor's product complies with the same standards, officials said.
Orion's Stopak, however, says he will have to wait and see how that works in practice. For example, he wonders whether the Communicator still works as well when paired with Open Market's enterprise server and Netscape's calendaring server, instead of with a Netscape-only slate of servers. "Certainly, if you get everything from one vendor, it's going to fit together more smoothly than if you have to integrate things from third parties," says Stopak, who has a customer who wants to use Open Market's enterprise server.
In addition to integration between the Communicator and SuiteSpot pieces, developers are applauding Netscape's improved support for Microsoft technology. Netscape's plans include improving the Communicator's integration with OLE/COM/ActiveX objects on Windows 95 and Windows NT desktops, as well as improve the integration between its LiveConnect Internet object bus and OLE/COM/ActiveX objects, officials say.
Communicator will also be fully Doc object compliant and improve its integration with Microsoft Office, so, for example, an Excel spreadsheet can be displayed and edited full-screen in the browser. "We've had to use Microsoft technology for intranet development because so many people were using Office," says Angus Davis, a developer at IDS, an Internet service provider based in Greenwich, Rhode Island. "Now it looks like we're going to be able to go in and use Netscape."
Netscape's support for ActiveX only goes as far as 32-bit Windows desktops, however. Netscape would only support ActiveX objects on non-Windows platforms, such as Unix and Macintosh, if there is a demand for it, and it doesn't expect there to be one, says Rick Schnell, senior vice-president of engineering at Netscape.
Likewise, Netscape does not plan to support Microsoft's Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) unless customers begin demanding it, because Netscape believes the CORBA/IIOP distributed object model is superior, officials say.
"No one wants DCOM," says Alex Edelstein, group product manager for Navigator at Netscape. "No one's using it." For sure, Netscape's embrace of CORBA/IIOP won praise, even though it may leave some Microsoft DCOM shops out of the loop, one developer says. "It's going to be a great help for people in the Unix world who already have lots of CORBA objects," says Prasad Sivalenka, application developer at Worldcom, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.