The browser wars are back, and the differing strategies of the combatants have implications for companies offering home banking through personal financial management software.
Vying for larger shares of the Web browser market, Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp. recently unveiled new versions of their products.
Both companies have expanded the usefulness of their browsers by enabling the integration of software for applications such as E-mail, on- line collaboration, and financial management.
Full-scale integration of the software that drives Web searches and the software for personal financial management may not be far behind. Analysts already are talking about a new product category-the Net personal financial manager-that could supersede more static software like Intuit Inc.'s Quicken and Microsoft's Money.
"On-line financial services are moving toward the Web. The integration of Web browsers with personal financial managers will help that process," said Nicole Vanderbilt of Jupiter Communications in New York.
For financial institutions, the emergence of the Internet-based personal financial manager may require a return to the type of proprietary software development they conducted while building home banking programs in the 1980s.
At the very least, it would require banks to enlist outside help for developing a Net personal financial manager and for supporting customer use.
This year's browser sweepstakes began in June, when Netscape introduced Communicator, which bundles Navigator 4.0 with other software products.
Microsoft, which unveiled an early version of its Internet Explorer 4.0 this week, is taking a different approach to opening its software to more functions. It is breaking Explorer into components that can be redeployed by other software companies that wish to offer their services on the Web.
"We made a strategic decision," said Kevin Unangst, a product development manager at Microsoft. "If we want to broaden the use of the Internet, we need to break this up into components."
One of Microsoft's unlikely partners is its erstwhile antagonist Intuit, whose Quicken product dominates the market for personal financial managers, with an estimated 10 million users to Microsoft's 2.5 million.
In return for Intuit's agreement to drop Netscape and embed portions of Microsoft's new browser directly into its Quicken, QuickBooks, and TurboTax products, Microsoft granted the Quicken Financial Network (a financial Web site) a position among the various channels that will be available to all users of Internet Explorer.
"Although we could bundle Navigator with our products, we couldn't successfully embed it into the product," said Debra Kelly, an Intuit spokeswoman. "With embedded Internet Explorer, users have the ability to download information without leaving Quicken."
Though Microsoft is in a position of strength now, Netscape executives said they feel they can win Intuit back.
They said that Communicator's interoperability makes it attractive to more users than Explorer and added that they are confident Netscape can continue its dominance of the browser market, where it owns a 70% share.
"Microsoft has broken its browser into components that only work on Windows," said Mike Homer, Netscape's senior vice president of marketing.
"We are multiplatform, and we have chosen not to componentize our products until they are written in Java."