Analysts say Navigator to boost, not save OS/2

OS/2 users will finally get a leading-edge browser when Netscape ports Navigator to IBM's desktop operating system, but will it be enough to save the OS?

IBM's announcement that it will port Netscape Navigator to OS/2 Warp Version 4 will finally give OS/2 users a leading edge browser as well as access to more applications, but it won't resuscitate the ailing operating system, analysts say. "It's very significant if you're an OS/2 user because they face a lack of applications," says Stan Lepeak, an analyst at Meta Group in Stamford, Connecticut. "Overall, it's not really significant, though, because so few people are using OS/2 anymore. However, people using OS/2 who are tending to migrate toward Windows NT, this might keep them away from Internet Explorer."

IBM will continue to support its OS/2 installed base, pegged at 14 million, but the commitment to the platform overall will likely be short-term, predicted Lepeak. An IBM executive is adamant about the importance of OS/2 to IBM. "OS/2 remains an important cog in the overall goal of IBM," says Walley Casey, vice-president of client product management for personal software products. "This company remains firmly behind OS/2."

Casey and Bob Lisbonne, vice-president of client product marketing at Netscape, are downplaying the significance of OS/2 being the 17th platform for Navigator to support. And Casey says he was not ready to name any developers building plug-ins for the OS/2 port of Netscape Navigator.

The beta release of Netscape Navigator 2.02 for OS/2 4.0 (code named Merlin), will be available in early September with a final release slated for the end of September after Merlin is introduced on September 25, Casey says.

Navigator for OS/2 will be internationalised and non-English language versions will be released when localised versions of Merlin ship in the different countries, he says. The native Navigator for OS/2 will be downloadable free from both Netscape's and IBM's home pages at: http://home.netscape.com and http://www.ibm.com.

The IBM-Netscape team also is working together on the next release of Navigator, Version 4.0, code-named Galileo. An OS/2 version of Galileo will be available at the same time the browser is released for other platforms, Casey says.

Netscape Navigator for OS/2 will offer speech navigation and recognition capabilities that will be integrated in OS/2 Warp 4.0, allowing users to navigate around the World Wide Web using voice commands. Meanwhile, Java support, which is extra for users of the current version of OS/2, will be integrated into the Merlin operating system, Casey says.

"My overall take on this is it certainly improves the experience for OS/2 users. This will make browsing with the OS/2 product much more reasonable," says Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, California. "The big disadvantage OS/2 had, which is a lack of applications, could be overcome by this initiative at least initially," he says. "If the total package with OS/2 and the browser is as good as or better than Windows and the browser, then they're much closer to a level playing field. The lack of applications matters less if your applications are browser-based."

Enderle is bothered by the fact that OS/2 users will get the Netscape Navigator 2.0 version initially and that they will have to separately acquire the Java Virtual Machine. "They should roll out the most current technology with an operating system."

For Lepeak, that issue is more a public relations problem than a practical problem. "For the typical user, what you get in Netscape Navigator 2.0 is adequate, but it will reinforce the perception that if you're on OS/2 you're dealing with inferior applications," he says. Meanwhile, IBM will continue to support users of its existing proprietary browser but will focus on Netscape Navigator for all development in the future, Casey says.

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