Netscape: Hitting the SuiteSpot

Intranets and the Internet: The future of corporate-grade business solutions

Today, everyone is surfing the Net and has experienced firsthand the benefits of distributing information around the world. Now, the natural progression is to learn from Internet technology and apply it to everyday business computing. And, in case you haven't heard, the industry has replaced the term "everyday business computing" with the buzzword "intranet." With this buzzword comes the implication that you need to apply the benefits of Internet technology to your "everyday business" solutions if you are to remain competitive.

Netscape, which is synonymous with the Internet, wants you to think of the company as being an intranet-tool provider, too. At the Netscape Internet developer's conference in San Francisco, California, March 5 through March 7, the company announced several products, including FastTrack Server 2.0, Enterprise Server 2.0, and SuiteSpot. Developers from all over the world flocked to see Netscape-based solutions for the Internet and intranets. Netscape was clear that these tools will be of the Java and JavaScript variety.

Recognizing the gap between learning new development tools and providing commercial-grade solutions, Netscape announced an agreement to acquire NetCode, developer of a Java-based visual interface builder and object tool kit. This acquisition should accelerate deployment of Java-based Internet and intranet applications. Other companies displaying Java development tools included such familiar names as Borland, Cotton Software, Dimension X, Natural Intelligence, ParcPlace-Digitalk, Platinum Technology, Rogue Wave Software, SunSoft, Symantec, and JavaSoft.

So what do all the Internet/intranet announcements mean? They mean Netscape is serious about providing real development tools for both the Internet and intranets. The fact that other companies have also created development tools for these environments validates Netscape's vision.

Application development tools are great, but you need a strong platform as the foundation for any real-world solution. A year ago, when Netscape introduced two Windows NT server products, the Communications and Commerce Servers, they were state of the art. Since then, most of Netscape's competitors have introduced new versions that have leapfrogged Netscape's technology. Enter Netscape FastTrack server, Netscape Commerce Server, and Netscape SuiteSpot.

FastTrack Server 2.0
Netscape FastTrack Server addresses the market segment that puts a premium on ease of setup and administration. It offers high performance and has built-in support for Java and JavaScript. In addition, FastTrack Server supports Secure Sockets Layer 3.0 (SSL 3.0) open protocol to let you secure your site. Setup wizards and a configuration agent detect a user's environment and settings and automatically configure the server to handle TCP/IP and Microsoft networking protocols. With FastTrack Server, users of all skills can be up and running in minutes. The Server is public beta and available for immediate download from Netscape (http://home.netscape.com). The commercial version will include Netscape Navigator Gold 2.0 and will retail for $295.

Enterprise Server 2.0
Netscape Enterprise Server 2.0 supports Java, JavaScript, and SSL 3.0. This server comes bundled with Netscape Gold 2.0 and includes Netscape LiveWire, which provides visual site management, hyperlink integrity management, and database connectivity to Informix, Oracle, Sybase, Illustra, CA-Open, Ingres, Microsoft SQL Server, and Open Database Connectivity (ODBC)-compliant databases.

Other features include the following:

* Integrated Verity Topic Search Engine lets you index document types such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), and ASCII, and search the Web using Boolean, wildcard, phrase, free-text, and sentence queries.

* MKS Integrity Engine provides version control for your Web site. With this feature, you can control who can change your Web site's content. What's more, you can undo mistakes and back up to a previous working version of any page. Netscape has improved its server-management capabilities to include secure remote management via client-side certificate authentication. Web administrators can now manage any site on their network securely.

* Configuration Rollback lets you easily go back to a previous version of your Web site in case you make a mistake in configuration.

Netscape Enterprise Server also supports Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) versions 1 and 2 remote monitoring capabilities and multiple domain support. If you have the domains xyz.com and zzz.com, one server lets you access both domains. Enterprise Server will be available second quarter. The price is $995. Enterprise Server is also available with Live-Wire Pro, which includes a runtime and developer version of Informix Online database, for $1495.

SuiteSpot
SuiteSpot is a set of integrated applications. In addition to Enterprise Server and LiveWire Pro, these applications include Netscape Mail Server, Netscape News Server, Netscape Catalog Server, and Netscape Proxy Server.

* Netscape Mail Server is a Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)-based client/server messaging system with enterprise-quality administration.

* Netscape News Server is a Network News Transport Protocol (NNTP)-based server that you can use for creating and publishing public or private discussions on your intranet or the Internet.

* Netscape Catalog Server is a new class of server software that helps you easily find people or information, specifically, on intranets.

* Netscape Catalog Server automatically builds and maintains a common directory of resources, cataloging, and indexing information so users can easily access it, regardless of where information is stored on an intranet. Netscape Proxy Server 2.0 is a high-performance server. By intelligently caching frequently accessed Internet documents inside the corporate firewall, Netscape Proxy Server 2.0 provides replication on demand for workgroups. Netscape Proxy Server's new scripting features make replication on demand possible. The replication model conserves bandwidth and lets administrators filter specific sites by user or document.

Because Netscape SuiteSpot is an integrated family of products, the server components share network administration and security features that are based on Netscape's established Internet standards. Netscape SuiteSpot is $3995. Each component is available separately for $995, except LiveWire Pro, which is $695. One attractive feature of SuiteSpot's pricing model is that you get five licenses and LiveWire Pro for one price. You can choose any five licenses you want: You can get two Enterprise Servers, a Catalog Server, a Mail Server, and a News Server, or you can get five Enterprise Servers, for example.

NT, Netscape, and the Future
I recently visited with Atri Chatterjee, vice president of server products for Netscape. (For more of Chatterjee's comments, see the sidebar, "Netscape Addresses the Internet," page 26.) I was curious about how important Windows NT was to Netscape. Chatterjee explained that NT was very important to Netscape, as was UNIX, and that Netscape spent a great deal of effort optimizing its product for each operating system.

I next asked how the Collabra Share acquisition affected Netscape's future. Chatterjee said that the Collabra technology would come into play in future versions of Netscape Mail Server and Netscape News Server.

When I asked what the future holds for Netscape, Chatterjee offered this: "Netscape will distribute new releases faster than has been previously possible. Product cycles can no longer take years or even a year. We will aggressively bring products to market every six months."

He encouraged me to look at Netscape's per-client price comparison of its SuiteSpot and Microsoft's BackOffice, which you see in table 1. In table 2, you can see how Netscape compares FastTrack Enterprise Server and Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS). The way Netscape sees it, FastTrack Server compares favorably with IIS. SuiteSpot, on the other hand, compares favorably with--drum roll, please--BackOffice. Netscape sees the competition focusing on what the industry has traditionally viewed as corporate client/server platforms.

As the Internet becomes as widely used as the telephone, and the line between the Internet and intranets blurs, the industry must seriously consider application platforms such as SuiteSpot as viable alternatives for delivering corporate-grade business solutions. One thing is for certain: Netscape has started something big.

TABLE 1:
Netscape's per-client price comparisons of SuiteSpot and BackOffice

Netscape SuiteSpot $4,410 $8,140 $32,905
Microsoft BackOffice $4,889 $23,998 $170,199
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