Netscape Communications Corp. is throwing down its gauntlet today in the battle over electronic commerce.
With a series of planned product announcements, and through a speech in San Francisco Tuesday by company president James Barksdale, Netscape is signaling a new aggressiveness in promoting its technology as a foundation for business on the Internet.
Among the components of the strategy are Netscape LivePayment, described as "an Internet cash register," and a payment utility dubbed Netscape Wallet.
Netscape, which makes the most popular software for browsing the Internet's World Wide Web, has made no secret of its ambitions. But the company is using several product upgrades and introductions to underscore its "mission to make commerce on the Net a reality," said Andres Espineira, director of commercial applications and product marketing at Mountain View, Calif.-based Netscape.
By "reintroducing" some existing products and releasing new ones, he said Netscape is demonstrating a commitment "to trying to kick-start on- line commerce."
It has all the trappings of a direct attack on Microsoft Corp. and its similar positioning as a standard-bearer for on-line commerce.
"The message is that Netscape has expertise in this area and will use it to deliver comprehensive solutions," said Romeo Baldeviso, a product manager working under Mr. Espineira.
Mr. Baldeviso said much of the talk - much of it still speculative - about Internet commerce has centered on conventional models of retailing. In addition to its Merchant System, which addresses that application, Netscape also markets the Publishing System for texts and documents and Community System for bulletin boards, chat groups, and other interactive services.
Netscape Wallet and LivePayment can simplify buying, selling, and paying in all those areas. Credit cards could be accommodated immediately and electronic cash, check, and micropayment alternatives are on the drawing boards.
Upgrades of the merchant, publishing, and community systems - each called Version 1.5 - are being announced today. Availability time depends on the type of computer they run on, starting with the Sun Solaris workstation next month. All should be out by the fourth quarter.
Also on the commercial level, Netscape recently formed Actra Business Systems, a joint venture with GE Information Services dedicated to developing business-to-business services and electronic data interchange. Mr. Baldeviso said the first fruits of this alliance should be on the market later this year.
The Netscape officials stressed that their vision of commerce cuts across retailing, financial services, on-line publishing, and media and entertainment. Though the company, which went public with great fanfare last year, has attracted most attention as the provider of the Navigator browser, it makes most of its money through "enterprise" software for businesses.
Mr. Espineira said thousands of organizations use Netscape servers. Among the company's more than 200 "key accounts" are Bank of America, Merrill Lynch & Co., the Chicago Board of Trade, J.C. Penney Co., Federal Express, Discovery Channel Online, and The Wall Street Journal.
In a preview last week, the product executive said the Travelocity Web site, which offers access to American Airlines' Sabre reservations system, is a place to view all the commercial software in action.
"These examples show the breadth and experience we have," Mr. Espineira said. "It is an important part of our strategy that we offer products addressing the whole spectrum."
Netscape's push for commercial supremacy through product development efforts and strategic alliances may be only beginning.
Along with Microsoft and other prominent technology providers, Netscape participated in the MasterCard-Visa effort to develop the Secure Electronic Payment protocol for on-line card transactions. It also has partnerships with Verifone Inc. and Cybercash Inc., which are noted for their electronic commerce and "wallet" concepts.