Will AOL Kill Netscape?

America Online does not have a good record when buying Web software companies. (Remember Navisoft?) So now that its acquisition of Netscape Communications Inc. is complete, there may be reason for those of us in e-commerce to be nervous.

For better or worse, Netscape remains the chief competitive threat to Microsoft when it comes to the software you need to keep your e-store moving ahead. While Apache continues to lead in server share, it’s Netscape’s large share in browsers that keeps Microsoft from successfully pushing its own, proprietary technologies onto the Net, thus mandating use of its own, proprietary solutions for serving the market.

Early indications are not good. AOL is reportedly going to slash Netscape’s programming staff, moving many functions onto Sun Microsystems Inc., its marketing partner for server software. But despite the success of Java, Sun is basically a hardware company, not a software company.

The war to control Net software continues, and if AOL is going to sound retreat for Netscape, then your store may have no alternative but to switch to Microsoft’s solutions. At that point, it will be impossible for either the courts or the Administration to stop Microsoft’s takeover of the Net.

But wait, all is not lost. Here comes the cavalry, in the form of IBM. IBM has been quietly building a complete alternative platform under its Websphere servers, supporting Linux, Apache and (now) Novell. IBM also has more programmers working on Java solutions than Sun. So, perhaps, all is not lost, resistance is not futile, and we will not all be assimilated — yet.

But you’re on the firing line, not me. What’s your opinion of the latest Web software moves? Will AOL deliver the solutions you need to stay competitive? Will Microsoft? Will IBM?

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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