Lines Between Communicator And IE Begin To Blur

The browser wars just aren't what they used to be. Microsoft Corp. plans to release Version 5.0 of Internet Explorer this quarter, and Netscape Communications Corp.'s Communicator 5.0 won't be far behind.

Not too long ago, the two rollouts would have sparked a major mind- and market-share battle. But now, as both companies prepare the next versions of their free and ubiquitous Web clients, the lines between the products are blurring.

As a result, IT buyers no longer have to worry about risking major software investments on the wrong browser or losing out on features by going with the other browser. Upgrades are becoming easier, and a heterogeneous browser deployment across an enterprise is no longer a scary thing.

Bil Alvernaz, marketing communications director for the Private Industry Council of Merced County, Calif., has been pushing the county to adopt IE as a standard for the new county intranet he is helping to develop. But even Alvernaz, a self-professed IE fan and an IE 5.0 beta tester, admitted there isn't a huge difference in quality between the Microsoft and Netscape browsers.

"I think it gets back to personal preference," Alvernaz said. "There's no way I can get up on a soapbox and say, 'Don't use Netscape because Internet Explorer is easier.'"

Now available in its third and final beta, IE 5.0 will ship with Office 2000, which is due by early next month, and likely will be downloadable before that.

With the upgrade, Microsoft (MSFT) is focusing on ease of use. IE 5.0 includes a customizable tool bar, a "Go" button next to the address bar for novices, an improved Search Assistant that automatically goes to popular search sites, a new ability to see Favorites lists offline and an Auto-Complete feature that fills in password fields on Web sites.

The browser cache also recognizes the password field and fills in the password so a user doesn't have to remember it, said Michael Nichols, a product manager in Microsoft's Personal and Business Systems Group, based here.

IE 5.0 also adds AutoCorrect, which recognizes an incorrect URL and corrects it; support for Transport Layer Security 1.0, the heir to Secure Sockets Layer; and an electronic wallet that supports the Secure Electronic Transactions specification.

IE 5.0 ships with Windows Synchronization Manager, a tool for downloading IE components off the Web. That's helpful because IE 5.0 will come in three downloadable versions, the smallest being 6.5MB and lacking features such as a JVM (Java virtual machine). And since Microsoft has agreed to work with the court-ordered JVM that will be compatible with other Java browsers, the likelihood of incompatibility appears to be waning.

It comes down to comfort

So what is the overriding decision maker for browser use? Analysts say it's what people get access to first and what they're most comfortable with. International Data Corp.'s most recent survey of the browser market indicated that Netscape (NSCP) , of Mountain View, Calif., and Microsoft are neck and neck in browser share. But nearly a third of the Microsoft users are really America Online customers using a customized version of IE. America Online Inc. officials have so far pledged to maintain IE as their default browser, but if the consumer giant should switch or even become browser-agnostic, the share numbers could shift dramatically.

"When we did this research, we found that few people switched," said Joan-Carol Brigham, an analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Mass. "It's who can capture the new users most effectively."

Source: PC Week


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