March 10, 1997 10:00 AM ET
Netscape plans 'CrossWare' trio
Upgraded client and server software aimed at extending,
securing intranets

By Michael Moeller

  Netscape Communications Corp., reaffirming its commitment to a standard intranet computing platform, this week will introduce next-generation client, server and development tool software.

The products, part of Netscape's new Networked Enterprise strategy, will enter beta testing this year and ship early next year, said sources close to the Mountain View, Calif., company.

The offerings include an upgraded client suite, code-named Mercury, that will replace Communicator and include the Constellation desktop environment; a new server suite, code-named Apollo; and a development environment, code-named Palomar, sources said.

The three products provide the foundation for "CrossWare" applications that can transcend intranets and extranets and promise end-to-end security, scalability and transparency, sources said. Marc Andreessen, Netscape's vice president of technology, will detail the strategy Wednesday at Spring Internet World in Los Angeles. Also at the show, Netscape will unveil the first business-to-business applications borne out of its Actra Business Systems subsidiary (see related story, "E-commerce grows up with aid of D&B, Actra").

Netscape officials declined to comment.

For Netscape to succeed at some enterprise sites, it must deliver on its latest strategy quickly. "We needed this technology and it wasn't there yet, so we built our own," said a user at a Midwest manufacturer who requested anonymity.

"Netscape is clearly on the right path, but in some cases, we've already solved our problems."

The Mercury client suite will enhance Communicator--which itself is still in beta and set for release this spring-with features to help make users' desktops a more integral extension of the network.

A new method for viewing information resources, called a HyperTree, will let users access files and folders on Internet, intranet or extranet servers, sources said.

Offline and replication capabilities in the client are being enhanced with an object store that will enable users to download Java, CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) or HTML applications and work with them offline. Once the user is reconnected to the network, the object store will upload and replicate the new information.

Other client features include a universal in-box that uses an intelligent agent technology called Compass, sources said. The intelligent agents will work with server agents to monitor incoming E-mail, fax messages, voice mail and "pushed" information, even when a user is offline. Mercury also will include a new engine, code-named Gemini, for rendering HTML and graphics and executing multimedia applications, sources said. A new runtime engine will compile JavaScript code on the fly, enabling more sophisticated JavaScript application development.

On the server side, Apollo will include an object store for enabling replication with Mercury. The server software will include a new transaction processing system built on a CORBA 2.0 feature called object transaction services. Workflow and message-oriented middleware for enabling asynchronous messaging will also be added, sources said.

Other features of Apollo include WebNFS (Web Network File Services) to create distributed file systems and improved network printing.

Palomar, due this summer, is a visual rapid application development tool that will create applications that can support all the functionality in current and future client and server platforms, such as Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, collaboration services and database services, sources said.

A number of software vendors will join Netscape at Internet World to announce support for a core set of standard Internet protocols to provide compatibility for business applications, sources said.

The flexibility to mix and match the new technology with other vendors' seems to be the key for Netscape's vision to come to life.

"Think about deploying a workflow system across the extranet," said Bruce Chovnick, vice president of Internet consulting services at GE Information Services, in Rockville, Md. "A workflow system like this ... can improve how things work and are built."

"They are talking about all the right things," said Don DePalma, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "But for corporations to adopt this, they need to deliver it in a simple method. If users need to bolt this together themselves, it won't work."

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