Microsoft and Netscape to carve off pieces of Web browsers

Breaking up isn't hard to do.

At least that's what key Web browser makers Microsoft and Netscape Communications are hoping.

The vendors have confirmed that they plan to follow rival Spyglass and carve off pieces of their World Wide Web browsers from the core products. The idea is to give users the option to bypass unwanted features to keep the browsers as small as possible.

"That's the direction everyone's heading," says Alex Edelstein, a group product manager at Netscape in Mountain View, California.

Netscape has been criticised for fattening up its browser by adding features that users may not want, such as electronic mail and support for audio and video. Naperville, Illinois-based Spyglass, meanwhile, recently split its browser into dozens of smaller components that users can elect to use.

Microsoft, too, is headed toward a piecemeal approach for its Internet Explorer browser. But rather than divide the product into modules, it plans to sprinkle browser features in its operating systems and applications, says Kevin Unangst, a product manager at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington.

"We have no plans to discontinue [selling] a separate browser, but many features will be lightweight and optional," Unangst says.

Usenet news-readers and email, for example, will be discrete options in future versions of Internet Explorer, he says.

Oracle, meanwhile, plans to market its PowerBrowser product as a slower-moving alternative to Navigator and Internet Explorer. It is due to ship this week.

Oracle announced PowerBrowser six months ago and recently touted its longer release cycle as a benefit to users. "A lot of our customers are saying they can't deploy corporate applications on a browser [with new versions] that ships every six weeks," says Doug Laird, director of marketing at Oracle in Redwood Shores, California.

Faster than a speeding . . .

Netscape and Microsoft average three to six months between browser upgrades, which is lightning speed compared with shipping schedules of traditional applications. The fast pace could make it tough for information systems groups to keep up. "That's a very reasonable concern," Netscape's Edelstein acknowledges.

For example, Navigator 3.0, which is code-named Atlas, is due to ship at the end of May, roughly five months after Navigator 2.0 was released.

However, Edelstein says, Netscape's subscription programme is intended to relieve IS angst. IS managers can buy a two-year subscription to Navigator that gives them rights to all product versions shipped during that time.

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