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Netscape's Navio tackles consumer 'Net devices

Netscape also partners with Apple on Cyberdog

By Sari Kalin, Elinor Mills

September  1996
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San Francisco, CA -- Navio Communications Inc., a new spinoff from Netscape Communications Corp., will develop software to run on a range of non-PC Internet access devices that will hit the market next year, executives said in late August.

The devices, including set-top boxes, telephones, personal digital assistants, game players, and other networked appliances, will be targeted at consumers, while Netscape will remain focused on corporate intranets, said Jim Clark, Netscape chairman and cofounder and chairman of Navio.

Netscape's partners in the venture include IBM, Oracle Corp., NEC Corp., Sony Corp., Sega Enterprises Ltd. and Nintendo Co. Ltd. Clark and other executives refused to disclose which are investors in Navio or to discuss other specifics.

In tailoring Netscape Navigator to run on the devices, Navio will break the browser into components and either develop a separate operating system for specific devices or port the browser technology to other "real-time" operating systems, such as the Java OS, that run on the devices, said Marc Andreessen, senior vice president of technology and cofounder of Netscape.

For instance, a pager needing as little as a half-megabyte of RAM would require fewer components of Navigator technology for its limited functionality than would a TV-style set-top box, said Wei Yen, Navio president and CEO.

Initially, Navio will rely on Netscape's server software to work with the client software, he said.

The code for the software will primarily be written using C++, with some written in assembly language for the efficiency to operate on devices that have available RAM ranging from two to 8 megabytes, said Yen. Navio will increasingly write code in the Java language, according to Andreessen.

"We will provide an operating system, not for the PC, that can provide an equivalent of the desktop operating system and have the ability to have channels embedded" in the software that will stream information to the user, Andreessen explained.

In contrast with today's model of the Internet, in which users chase down the information they want from a particular site, a new channels model will broadcast information to the user, he said. It will "take areas of the screen on the client device and have the server updating it," he said.

Andreessen estimates that by the year 2000, as many as 500 million non-PC-based Internet devices will be in operation.

"As developing countries modernize and industrialize, these devices offer a huge opportunity to quickly build an infrastructure," he said.

"The Internet will be the electricity to the consumer device in the next century," Yen said.

Microsoft Corp. and other companies probably won't be far behind Netscape in aggressively pushing into the Internet device arena, according to Gary Schultz, principal analyst at Multimedia Research Group in Sunnyvale, California.

"We think there will be a market for Internet applications, and they won't be PC-based," he said. "The question I still have is, how will they attract the developers and will the developers know that the tools they'll be using will be cross-platform?"


In other Netscape news...
Building on its OpenDoc commitment, Netscape and Apple Computer Inc. will develop a version of its Navigator browser for Apple's Cyberdog Internet suite, company officials announced.

Netscape will develop a custom OpenDoc-based component for Cyberdog, which will be available in the middle of next year, officials said. Apple will distribute Netscape Navigator for Cyberdog as the default browser for Cyberdog, which will ultimately be incorporated with the Mac OS, officials said.

With the Cyberdog version of Navigator, users will be able to embed browsing capabilities in OpenDoc-compatible applications, officials said.

In May, Netscape announced that it would develop Navigator into a container for OpenDoc parts. Today's announcement furthers Netscape's commitment to OpenDoc, as well as Apple and Netscape's cooperation, analysts said.

"It shows that they are responding to the Mac market, which demands a lot more personal customization," said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies Inc. in San Jose, CA. "That's very good for Apple customers."

--Sari Kalin, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau, and Elinor Mills, IDG News Service, San Francisco Bureau

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