As part of America Online's acquisition of Netscape Communications and its alliance with Sun Microsystems, the companies this week will announce a functionally independent division focusing on Internet-commerce applications.
The as-yet-unnamed I-commerce group will be composed of approximately 1000 Netscape employees and 1000 Sun employees, according to John Loiacono, vice president of brand marketing at Sun. Mark Tolliver, former president of Sun's consumer and embedded division, will serve as president and general manager of the new group, and Barry Ariko, senior vice president of AOL's new Netscape Enterprise Group, will be executive vice president and deputy general manager.
"What AOL brings to the mix is the traffic, Netscape brings the middleware and Sun brings the ability to do the mission-critical hardware support," Loiacono said. "We're taking the enterprise software and the Netcenter group."
Netscape's CommerceXpert line of applications will also be drawn into the division, according to John Paul, the new senior vice president of AOL products and former senior vice president of server products at Netscape.
"All of the existing Netscape product line, from the infrastructure to the [electronic]-commerce applications, do become part of the Sun alliance," Paul said.
The new I-commerce group will act as an independent organisation, although it legally cannot be a separate company, according to Paul. The group's workforce officially will be composed of AOL employees.
"It can't be a separate legal entity, but it is meant to act as a separate organisation," Paul said. "It will function as an independent group."
The objective of the alliance is to make I-commerce shopping easier for both the consumer and merchant, according to Paul.
"Today we think it is just much too hard to do shopping on the Net," Paul said.
"What the Sun alliance allows us to do is ship software that links the audience of AOL properties and their shopping experience to merchants' systems. The biggest benefit that we can bring to merchants is the audience that we can bring to their sites," he added.
This alliance between AOL and Sun has both benefits and potential pitfalls, according to analysts.
"A very tight platform alliance between the Netscape commerce applications and the Sun Solaris platform will be great for Sun users, but may not be so great in the long run, because Windows NT is the most popular commerce platform right now," said Erica Regullies, senior industry analyst at Giga Information Group. "And, this strategy is not fully laid out as to what is going to happen with the commerce applications."
Sun and AOL intend to provide details on the product strategy as part of the Sun alliance announcement on March 30.
America Online is at www.aol.com Sun Microsystems is at www.sun.com Netscape Communications is at www.netscape.comNew orderWith the its acquisition of Netscape complete, America Online is reorganising into four new divisions.
* Interactive Services Group
* Interactive Properties Group
* Netscape Enterprise Group*
* AOL International Group
* Part of the strategic alliance between Sun and AOL