Browser Giants Battle for Enterprise Supremacy

Some experts claim that the browser wars are over. But the battle between rivals Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp. for placement in the enterprise space is just heating up.

For almost five years now the competitors have been on each other’s heels with the latest versions of their browsers. This fall it was no different. Netscape spun out Communicator 4.5 two weeks before Microsoft released the beta version of its Internet Explorer 5.0.

Both browsers' previous versions emphasized multimedia capabilities. This time around, however, the buzzwords are, "simplicity" and "cost of ownership." Netscape’s Smart Browsing and Microsoft’s IntelliSense both promise an easier way to access sites on the Web: using a name-based system rather than typing in longer, more exacting URLs. Both companies also boast integration features with their respective portal sites.

The big plus for enterprise users is the administrative components the companies have added, which they promise helps to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) by reducing the time and attention the browsers demand from IT managers. Microsoft calls its component the Internet Explorer Administration Kit 5 (IEAK 5), a tool for customizing and deploying IE in the enterprise. Netscape first released its Mission Control Desktop (MCD) with Communicator 4.0, but is releasing a new version with its new browser. MCD helps IT managers lock browser client preferences and create a customized installation that can be distributed over the Internet. Once the clients have the software, the operation can be centrally managed from an HTTP Web server or an LDAP Directory Server. There is also a feature called SmartUpdate, which enables IT departments to put a silent copy of Communicator updates on their Web sites or detect which users don't have the most recent copy and push it to them over the network.

Netscape has a slight advantage right now since its newest version is out and ready to deploy, while Microsoft is still in the testing phase. But Microsoft could gain the advantage, however, when it releases Office 2000 because of Office integration capabilities that it reports will be included in the next version of IE.

Zona Research Inc. (Redwood City, Calif., released its latest corporate browser study in October and found that Netscape's Navigator, the browser component of Communicator, increased its position over IE as the primary browser in use in the enterprise by 6 percent. Netscape now has a 60 percent market share compared with Microsoft's 40 percent. The study reveals that 84 percent of IE usage is policy-driven, meaning companies setup rules requiring employees to use Microsoft's product.

Clay Ryder, vice president and chief analyst of Zona Research, says policy-driven growth has a lot to do with bundling. "We believe this significant increase is largely due to the fact that IE 4.0 is an integral part of Windows 98, that Microsoft has continued to make inroads in the corporate marketplace, and numerous distribution agreements with service providers and other software vendors," Rider says.

Netscape, not wanting to lose audience from its portal site Netcenter, released the Netscape TuneUp for IE, a free software utility that gives IE users the same Netcenter services that Communicator has. The TuneUp is a 100-KB ActiveX control that works with IE 4.0.

Microsoft made headlines by doing the opposite in September. Netscape users cried foul when they were turned to an alternate download page as they tried to download the Office 97 Update from Microsoft's Web site. The alternate page explained to Netscape users that they could only download a limited edition of the update and that their browsers would not be able to get the most out of Microsoft’s services. Insisting the instance was not an attempt to get Netscape browser users to switch over to IE, Microsoft quickly fixed the site so Netscape users could download the whole update but maintains that Navigator is not compatible with all of the Microsoft Internet services.

"We tend to think an instance like this usually fixes itself," said Donna Sokolsky, a spokesperson for Netscape, in September. "It's not that big of a deal for us to be worried about."

Communicator 4.5 can be downloaded free from Netscape's Netcenter ( Beta testers can download IE 5.0 from Microsoft's Web site (