This week, Netscape will announce a new vision for the future of enterprise computing. When Netscape execs briefed me about it in advance, they said they would be "planting the next stake in the ground." In other words, they are mapping a path to new territory. Now you have to decide 1.) if your company should travel to that territory, and 2.) if Netscape is the right company to blaze the trail.
Netscape's plan assumes your company has (or will have) a standards-based intranet. Now Netscape is talking about extending that platform outside the firewall. Often referred to as the "extranet," this architecture lets you deliver distributed applications to employees, partners and customers, regardless of their physical location and regardless of the computer they are using.
Pull up stakes. Netscape is pointing in the right direction. I believe most companies should pull up stakes and head for open standards as soon as possible, leaving proprietary systems behind. As I fly around meeting with leading companies, hearing their concepts for the future, I find the Netscape vision the most compelling. Going from Internet to intranet to extranet is the best way to gain the benefits of the new networked world without starting over. It lets you make progress in manageable stages. Best of all, this approach lets you extract maximum value from investments. It doesn't force you to start over each time or to convert everyone to a proprietary platform.
At the heart of the plan is Netscape's "crossware" promise to deliver the products and tools to build applications that run across different computers, different operating systems and different databases. We all know that cross-platform computing has big compromises from the need to use lowest-common-denominator functions.
But in the networked world that is coming, crossware may have enough advantages to outweigh those drawbacks. If you plan to reach out to customers around the world, you must have cross-platform applications. You cannot force platform consistency on customers. Open Internet standards provide, in theory at least, a way to deliver a solution to anyone, anywhere.
I don't have the space to delve into the other ingredients of the Netscape vision, but I do want to mention a few highlights. Pay special attention to these aspects:
- Location independence, so you can get your own "desktop" on any computer (coming in the Constellation browser)
- Improved HTML authoring and display
- Powerful new "agent" capabilities for filtering and autoresponding to mail
- Secure mail (thereby making E-mail into a safe way to deliver applications and functionality)
- Robust support of the all-important LDAP directory specification, which is sure to become the standard way to name and find people and resources on the Internet.
Stake your career. Should you stake your career on Netscape's promises? Next week, we'll discuss obstacles that could prevent Netscape from fulfilling its pledge. Hint: There's one ongoing mistake that could put a stake through the heart of its plan to lead the enterprise world to the extranet.
Jesse Berst is editorial director of ZD Net Anchor Desk, a free E-mail news alert with a companion Web site (www.anchordesk.com). Stake your claim to his attention by sending comments to email@example.com.