Au revoir Netscape, bonjour channel

Au revoir Netscape, bonjour channel

The brand that was once synonymous with the Internet is all but dead. The Netscape name last week was dropped from all the server and Internet application products that will be produced by the Sun-Netscape alliance.

The good news for the Australian channel is that despite being a direct-focused vendor in the US, the Sun-Netscape Alliance will continue to be 100 per cent channel-focused in Australia and will continue to have the backing of a local operation run by the previous Netscape team.

The 100-day-old Sun-Netscape Alliance, a unique corporate triumvirate resulting from America Online's purchase of Netscape and its simultaneous alliance with Sun Microsystems, will drop the Netscape brand in favour of the iPlanet name on most of its products, Sun-Netscape Alliance officials announced last week.

The loss of the Netscape name on such products as Netscape Application Server (NAS) and Netscape Web Server comes as a bittersweet development as the majority of the products and technology taking the iPlanet name were developed by Netscape. Yet that Netscape brand name apparently did not hold favour with Sun and AOL.

"The fact that they replaced the Netscape name with a meaningless one argues that they saw a negative value to the Netscape brand. And that's only something companies do after they've done a lot of research," said Jeff Tarter, editor of Softletter, a monthly newsletter about the software industry in the US. "The chickens have come home to roost on company behaviour - Netscape burned a lot of developers."

With the iPlanet announcement, the final stage of Netscape's death knell as a stand-alone entity may have been sounded. Even the corporate name - the Sun-Netscape Alliance - will be relegated to the fine print on the back of a CD package.

Com Tech managing director David Shein, who was an early Netscape partner, said that it was now not a "major platform for us".

"However, it's disappointing to see a pioneer of the Internet lose its brand."

Despite this development, the Alliance in Australia was not looking for anyone to shed any tears over its latest reincarnation.

Last week in Melbourne it simultaneously launched its new Australia-New Zealand operation as well as unveiling its new iPlanet product brand and the portal for e-commerce planning and implementation.

With the catch-cry "iPlanet: run with it", the company plans to use its combined expertise to deliver infrastructure and business-to-business e-commerce solutions to telecommunication, finance and procurement and distribution-related manufacturing clientele.

According to Rob Stewart, managing director of the company's ANZ arm: "The Alliance represents the consolidated expertise and resources of three companies which have each played enormous roles in shaping and driving the growth and worldwide adoption of the Internet."

Since its formation in March, the Sun-Netscape Alliance claims to have "significantly exceeded" its revenue targets, signing over 300 customers worldwide.

Although he was unable to disclose exact figures, Stewart revealed that, prior to the official launch of the local arm, the Alliance had delivered better than expected results from involvement in contracts such as the Australian Tax Office's $400 million outsourcing deal with EDS this year.

"We have exceeded our target by 10 per cent," he said, indicating that "the willingness of the local market" could see the local operation generate anywhere between 4 and 8 per cent of the Alliance's global revenue.

And while the alliance's US operation is only likely to have token channel involvement, the 100 per cent channel model and a strong market demand should enable local resellers to share in the battle spoils, with the launch of a new channel program within the next six weeks.

"[The program will be] architected to provide systems integrators and value-added resellers with all of the content tools, communication training and incentives they will need to successfully deliver end-to-end e-commerce solutions," Stewart revealed.

The Alliance will structure its channel around the two-tier lower-end model and select partners.

"When it comes to providing our customers with the necessary infrastructure, the existing channels, focused on Netscape products, will continue to distribute those products at the low end, as they deliver best service in that particular segment," Stewart said.

"At the high end, however, our clients are demanding investment in highly skilled systems integrators, which is the reason we are moving into the certification program. The Alliance has already signed five global business-to-business partner agreements with the likes of Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Loyal Netscape partners, like the Fulcrum Consulting Group, were standing by the new-look vendor last week.

"We know both Sun's and Netscape's products inside out. We've also been briefed on some of the technology that will come out under the iPlanet branding and it's pretty exciting stuff," said Andrew Wilkins, Fulcrum's director of marketing.

Express Data's national marketing manager, Peter Masters, said: "We've had a great relationship with Netscape over the years.

"It's not clear to us yet how the new branding will work, and we will be discussing it this week."

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