The battle of the ISPs has become a battle of the browsers. Telecom's Xtra Internet service and the Australian-owned Voyager now stand on opposite sides of the client line thanks to the latter's "strategic alliance" with Microsoft.
Under the alliance, Voyager, which claims 10,000 paid registrations since its launch last year, will declare its "preferred browser" to be Microsoft Internet Explorer from August 1. Microsoft already includes a flyer introducing purchasers of its Internet Starter Kit to Voyager.
Telecom, on the other hand, has made Netscape Navigator 2.0 the basis of its own connection kit. Voyager has been distributing Netscape 1.0 to its customers, but until recently has been technically unable to upgrade to the more sophisticated version 2.0.
Hence the rivalry between the two ISPs, which has already seen price convergence, has now also become a battle of the browsers. Voyager head John O'Hara says the company will continue to support Netscape and will "probably" move to Netscape 3.0 when it is released.
Internally, Voyager is changing from its present Unix-based system to a Microsoft Windows NT server and other Microsoft technology, retaining its DEC hardware. This sets up another rivalry with Xtra, which went for a Silicon Graphics infrastructure.
Meanwhile, in the wake of Xtra's claim of 5000 customers (apparently based on the number of promotional connection packs issued), the less glamorous Auckland ISP The Internet Group is also claiming to have notched up 5000 customers with 636 dial-in lines.
The company says that is three times as many lines as any other ISP and makes Ihug's Auckland hunt group the largest in the country, at 480 lines. The company's newsletter says there have been delays in adding lines because Telecom's exchange technicians "couldn't figure out how to do it". Both Voyager and Xtra charge between $5 and $7 an hour on top of standing charges of up to $49 a month. Ihug's charges range from $10 a month for 10 free hours (additional hours at $2) to $39 a month for unlimited access.