Netscape plans to take its fight with Microsoft directly to its rival's stronghold -- the desktop. If things go according to Netscape's plan, this push toward distributed object computing will reduce the need for the large-scale application suites that currently dominate desktops.
The Mountain View, California-based company hopes that as distributed object technology makes advances that are based on the Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP), software developers will focus on creating interoperable objects that can link together to offer the same functions that the large, monolithic application suites currently provide.
Netscape's chief technology officer, Marc Andreessen, says that the company is breaking up its Navigator browser to allow for rapid application development. "We need to make Navigator into a plug-in for Navigator," Andreessen says. The various components of a browser would be capable of communicating with each other depending on the particular platform they were running on, according to Andreessen.
"You could use LiveConnect, OLE automation, or OpenDoc -- it depends what kind of components you have," Andreessen says. Andreessen also says that the distributed object model will do away with the need for the full-blown operating systems that most users run today.
"The OS is going to become a commodity," Andreessen says. "The main purpose of the OS is to let the various devices talk to each other, and the main reason they have become so big is that they have to accommodate so many devices."
Netscape's push to unseat the application suite by offering a component browser and distributed objects does not surprise one industry analyst. "This has been brewing for about six months," says Neil Weintraut, Internet analyst for San Francisco-based Hambrecht & Quist. "The browser is getting to be a sizable application."
The Netscape initiative ties in tightly with the Internet's very strong effect on the way that software is designed and utilised, Weintraut says. "The Web is going to obviate the entire concept of applications and application suites," Weintraut says. "Some kids 15 years from now will not know what you are talking about when you say you used to open an application."
Other observers are taking a more cautious approach to Netscape's plan for building component-based applications. "There has to be a much more credible argument," says John Rymer, a senior analyst with Giga Information Group, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "They really need to describe more mainstream browser applications than word processing."
Weintraut says Netscape is declaring war on its most obvious rival, which has made its name and fortune in the application suite business. "This is a way Netscape can kick Microsoft right in the noogies," Weintraut says. But that kicking, according to Weintraut, would happen at some distant point down the road, not any time soon. "It may not allow them to do it today, but it will allow them to do it in the future," Weintraut says.