As Netscape Ages, Is it Losing its Pioneering Edge?

When Netscape Communications Corp. ( burst on the scene in 1994, the company made an initial impression as a brash, fresh-faced organization with the wherewithal to change the computing landscape forever. But Netscape’s recent acquisition by Internet online service America Online Inc. ( and a number of recent marketing agreements has brought into question much of the promise that initially characterized the company.

Far from being fresh or unconventional, Netscape has been conducting itself in a more traditional fashion in the aftermath of its purchase by AOL. In the month of January, the company announced deals with both International Data Group (IDG, and Network Solutions Inc. (

According to the terms of its agreement with IDG, Netscape and IDG will jointly produce a line of books and book/CD-ROM packages for consumers and enterprise users. "IDG Books Worldwide’s reputation for publishing high-quality books makes this the right partnership to help customers using and deploying Netscape products," says Lori Mirek, senior vice president of marketing at Netscape.

IDG publishes a number of titles, including the popular … For Dummies line of books, as well as Computerworld, Network World, and PC World magazines.

Netscape’s agreement with Internet Solutions -- the organization responsible for controlling the dissemination and registration of the most common Internet domain names -- is more far-reaching. The two companies unveiled a global marketing agreement through which Network Solutions’ Web address registration services will be marketed through a majority of the domestic and international channels on Netscape’s Netcenter portal site.

"We look forward to offering our large Netcenter audience information about Network Solutions’ business services," says Mike Homer, vice president and general manager of Netscape’s Netcenter division.

While Netscape’s recent marketing and production agreements may make sense financially, many in the Internet community suspect that the Internet pioneer may finally have lost its innovative edge.

"I won’t mince words: The vigor, the enthusiasm, the scourge that was Netscape just isn’t there anymore," says Dr. David Pensak, principal consultant and senior research fellow in advanced computing technology at DuPont Corp. ( "Some of that may be a natural transition as a startup becomes a mature company, but the innovative edge just isn’t there anymore, and I don’t see that just as a result of maturity."

In addition to his 24 years with DuPont, Pensak has successfully founded two start-up companies, Raptor Systems (, producer of the Eagle Firewall, and more recently Authentica-Security (www.authentica-security), a start-up that provides encryption plug-ins for popular file formats.

Others contrast the fall of Netscape with the resurgence of Apple Computer, which is being led by the driven interim CEO Steve Jobs. "If you look at Steve Jobs, he’s still got that gleam in his eye, that energy. I don’t see it anymore in Netscape," observes one industry watcher who wanted to remain anonymous. "That to me is far more worrisome than the merger with AOL or the deal with Network Solutions. Netscape has lost that burning passion in the pit of their stomachs to own the world."

But Pensak believes there’s still a possibility that Netscape could emerge as an Internet champion.

"[AOL’s CEO] Steve Case, while he appears to be a really nice guy, is a really shrewd businessman," Pensak notes. "If somebody were to come along who had a glorious vision for Netscape becoming the eighth wonder of the world, I believe that Case would throw the necessary money at them."