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What Netscape Needs to Succeed

by CHRIS NELSON | Netscape has been in a rut for a while now, sliding from one strategy to the next, leading the charge in many cases, but lacking the follow-through needed to become a leader in any one area. They've been able to ride the wave of being first-to-market in many cases, but being first with no follow-through won't help you a year down the line (unless you choose a new strategy and push to be first-to-market there, as well). Netscape needs to play their next few moves with careful consideration, otherwise the situation will only get worse. What can Netscape do to keep themselves from drowning?

Marketing - For Real This Time

Netscape needs to give up on the idea that
Netscape needs...a campaign that amounts to more than a few banner ads in industry online publications.
new users are just going to magically fall into their laps, or appear as a righteous horde from some mystical Internet Shangri-la. They must mount a significant advertising campaign with the release of their 5.0 browser -- a campaign that amounts to more than a few banner ads in industry online publications. They must roll out a series of Netcenter TV spots that run for weeks before and after the launch of their 5.0 browser. These ads should show off three new elements of the browser/Netcenter combination:

a) Even tighter integration between Netcenter and the browser, consisting of a persistent cache of Netcenter images, scripts, help content, ala AOL. Not necessarily files that are included in the Communicator install, but files that download once on the first visit and stay persistent from session to session, even if a user clears his cache. This new interface and functionality will give an edge to Netcenter - it will allow Netscape the ability to create a look much more involved and intriguing than the current portals, but maintain the quick download times that have become associated with portals. It should also allow for even more customization than what is currently available on any portal site - mainly, the ability to truly customize the look of the start page through themes. These themes should be able to extend to the interface itself; the chrome spec currently in development in Mozilla should be implemented in Communicator 5.0.

This new advertising strategy should implement one strategic change that, although cosmetic, would significantly improve Netscape's image:

b) Netscape needs to integrate, at minimum, one new color into their color scheme. The blue color scheme, although a significant branding component, has become stale and desperately needs revitalizing. This uplift could come with the addition of just one new color. Without at least one strategic new color, Netscape will find it hard to implement an advertising campaign that will be able to draw people in any significant numbers.

c)The third feature of Communicator 5.0 that should be touted in the advertising push is my second item on my list of strategy points...

NGLayout

NGLayout needs to be a part of 5.0, for no other reason than the zealots gathering at their gates, preparing to use their
..never underestimate the power of a zealot.
battering rams if v5 of Communicator is not HTML4.0, XML, and CSS1 compliant. More and more I'm seeing editorials by well-meaning if utterly misguided pundits, calling for this level of compliance by version 5.0. Never, never underestimate the power of a zealot. There are too many smoldering conflagrations in the world already to not take this to heart.

Netscape should take the first opportunity to do a dramatic reprioritizing of their browser efforts. Coders currently hacking on the current layout engine should be reassigned to NGLayout as soon as possible. All front-end coders should be reassigned to the XPFE interface. If Mozilla's internal schedule dictates that the current layout be used in the first release, that should happen, but it should not make it into Communicator unless it is, at the *very* least, 100% CSS1 compliant. From what I've seen, NGLayout will meet that goal before the current layout engine - but there is a lot of UI integration that would need to occur before NGLayout would be ready for release. Make it happen.

In any case, now that Communicator 4.5 has been released, Netscape should bite the bullet and 'fess up to their strategy. Mozilla is Open Source now, but since Netscape is still pulling the strings, they should really come clean about their intentions with regard to their browser's future, and move to a one-layout-engine strategy as soon as possible.

LINUX, LINUX, LINUX

Netscape needs to see returns from their Open Source giveaway. The problem is that the Windows development community hasn't learned the benefits of volunteer work. If Netscape is looking for a serious ROI, the only way they'll get that quickly is by shifting the focus of development to the Linux version of the browser. Here are a few things they can do:

1. Start a massive documentation effort for the source code. Leave no stone unturned. A reasonably good C/C++ programmer should be able to sit down with a comprehensive flow document and finish with a clear understanding of the flow and structure of the application.

2. Offer free training sessions throughout the country for people interested in getting started. Send key programmers to hotspots around the country and have them talk with interested programmers about the code. Keep the focus on Linux. Advertise mightily on industry news websites. Bring new functionality to Linux first, then incorporate it into Windows (before any public releases). This will get the community interested in helping out. If interested developers end up with nothing more to do than a Linux port of a Windows version, they probably will not stick around.

Apache, Apache, Apache

Netscape should consider porting much of their webserver functionality to the Apache webserver, either via modules or code improvements. IBM recently implemented this strategy to rave reviews from the IT community; Netscape would be able to capitalize on the extensive installed base of Apache servers and their own significant installed base for their webservers and server application development tools. Proven reliability in that regard will translate into good returns as Netscape tries to push their value-added Apache bundle. They should consider selling this value-added webserver bundle as a *very* inexpensive high-end web server package.

Final Words

Netscape needs a significant push in the browser space to stay competitive. Although they can't go toe-to-toe with Microsoft or AOL in the advertising arena, Netscape can match them on product quality. They should take this opportunity (Communicator 5.0's release will already lag Microsoft's IE release by many months) to re-prioritize their browser strategy, and focus on bringing their customers a browser that is worthy of the marketing push that must accompany it.

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