October 8, 1998 5:05 PM PDT

Building Netscape around portal

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After being introduced at his keynote address at Fall Internet World as a general, rather than a captain, in the Internet industry, Netscape Communications chief executive James Barksdale pointed out that a General Barksdale had led a charge during the Civil War, but died during the offensive.

He hopes to avoid that fate as he tries to distance Netscape from engaging solely in a browser battle against software giant Microsoft.

Instead, Barksdale said he is building the company around new features for its Netcenter portal that tie into the company's enterprise software business. The new services will include an offering called "Custom Netcenter" that allows corporations, ISPs, and individuals to create their own portals that integrate Netcenter offerings with Netscape's server software.

The Custom Netcenter is aimed at joining the two sides of Netscape's business, but it isn't clear whether the business community wants or needs the service.

The move comes as Netscape apparently is continuing to lose ground in its browser battle with Microsoft and is fighting an expensive, multipronged war to position Netcenter as one of the leading portals. Analysts have worried that Netscape is fighting on too many fronts and not winning on enough of them.

"We've been on a wild ride in the past few years and Netscape can be looked at as having built up three start-ups: the browser business, the enterprise business, and the portal business," Barksdale said.

He added that he sees the company's destiny "wrapped up" in the coming together of all three of these efforts.

While some might look at Netscape's position and see danger, Barksdale tried to turn it around and said the firm's precarious market position gives it an advantage.

"You know what they say: 'When you are surrounded you have the advantage of being able to attack in any direction,'" he said. "We are surrounded by opportunity and Netscape's new services will exploit those opportunities."

Barksdale also took an informal poll to determine how many people in the audience use Netscape's Navigator and how many use Microsoft's Internet Explorer. A little more than half the audience of perhaps 300 raised their hands as Netscape users.

He invited those people to come down to Washington next week to support him during his testimony in the government's antitrust suit against Microsoft.

 

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