[Best of OS/2: Come see what we've got . . . ]

Netscape Comes to Our Corner of the Web

Hold on to your desk and take a good long look at dear old WebExplorer. It may not be too long before you are forced to switch to Netscape by the sheer momentum of the masses.

In a joint press release on August 28, 1996, Wally Casey, VP of Client Product Management for PSP at IBM, and Bob Lisbonne, VP of Client Product Marketing at Netscape, announced that IBM and Netscape had finally reached an agreement. Netscape Navigator for OS/2 will join the other 16 platforms supported by Netscape as a beta release some time in September with the "final" version due shortly after that.

Why is that going to drive you away from WebExplorer? This port of Netscape will be equivalent to the current Netscape Navigator v2.02i on other platforms, including its support for frames and other Netscape-isms. If you've spent any time browsing the non-OS/2 oriented Web lately, you have noticed that the proliferation of web sites using these features prevents IBM's WebExplorer for OS/2 from displaying many sites as they were intended to be viewed. The only thing that has kept the OS/2 oriented sites on the WWW relatively free from this problem has been that most OS/2 users don't use Netscape. No doubt as soon as Netscape releases the first beta of Navigator for OS/2, the OS/2 masses will forget their years of rejection and jump into bed with the well endowed Navigator. It looks like it's, "Netscape Now."

For those of you thinking that IBM might still continue to develop WebExplorer, think again. When asked during the teleconference, "if this agreement effectively kills IBM's browser," Wally Casey replied, "Netscape Navigator is the strategic browser for OS/2."

And if you're thinking that some well meaning ISV in the OS/2 community should step in and offer to take up the task of maintaining the WebExplorer code for IBM, don't hold your breath. At least one major OS/2 ISV has officially made this offer to IBM but bluntly said they did not even expect a reply, let alone a positive one.

The Teleconference

But what about the good news? What exactly was said in the teleconference? A lot of things.

First and foremost, of course, is the fact that Navigator is coming and coming soon. In fact, the initial beta will be out, "sometime in the next few weeks," (as of Aug. 28th). The final version of the product is not expected to be finished by the time that IBM will announce and release OS/2 v4.0 (formerly known as Merlin) but is expected shortly after (late October). The beta (and the final version) will be freely downloadable by anyone with OS/2 Warp v3.0 or higher and a connection to the Internet.

The new browser will be backward compatible with OS/2 Warp v3.0 and will be free to either users of OS/2 v3.0 or v4.0. While the code for Navigator will not be on the OS/2 v4.0 CD, after installation, a Netscape icon will be present on the Desktop. This icon will link users to the Netscape site for immediate download of the Navigator (either the beta or, when finished, the final version).

While Warp v3.0 users won't be able to use the Java capabilities "out of the box", on September 25th IBM will officially announce a Java update kit (and a price for it -- while the browser will be free to Warp v3.0 users, the Java kit won't). OS/2 v4.0 users will, of course, have Java capabilities built into their operating system.

This version of Navigator will be feature and performance equivalent with v2.02i (the international version) of Navigator for other platforms. The "international" designation means it will have the ability to handle languages that use double byte character systems (DBCS) such as Japanese.

Because of the timing of the initial project's start and the difficulty inherent in developing the first version of a product for a platform, IBM and Netscape decided to opt for the stable v2.02 product as opposed to the then somewhat rough Navigator v3.0. Of course, Navigator v3.0 has recently been announced/released by Netscape so some may feel that the OS/2 version is starting its life already behind the pack. While there are no plans to port Navigator v3.0, Casey and Lisbonne stated that the version of Netscape coming after that, code named Galileo, will be released for OS/2 more or less simultaneously with the other platforms. The initial beta version of Galileo is expected by year end with the finished version in first quarter '97. Both VPs claim that all future versions of Navigator for OS/2 will be feature and performance equivalent to other platforms and released more or less in line with those other platforms.

This version of Navigator is not a port of existing Windows code using the Open32 APIs. Casey claimed it was a fully native version developed from scratch. During the question and answer period one listener asked whether we would see an OS/2 version of Navigator based on OpenDoc any time soon. Casey was noncommittal.

There will be tools available for porting of WebExplorer quicklists to Navigator and Workplace Shell integration of Navigator has been promised. Casey assured us that users would be able to drag and drop Java apps from the Internet onto their Warp v4.0 Desktop. The Netscape plug-in developer APIs will also be released at the same time as the beta and they will be consistent with those on other platforms.

Good News, Bad News

Other than the importance of the announcement itself, probably the most significant issue raised at the press teleconference was IBM's commitment to OS/2. In keeping with PSP's statements of late that IBM is only concerned with the business market, Casey said, "OS/2 remains an important cog in the overall goal of the IBM Corporation as it moves into a more dramatic and more demonstrative role in the area of network computing."

Still, many will argue, "who cares? If IBM is going to buy Netscape Navigator to appease its Fortune 500 clients, we'll gladly tag along for the ride. It's free after all!" One listener at the teleconference was not satisfied though and asked, "Why doesn't IBM make a statement one way or the other and resolve this ongoing uncertainty about the long term future of OS/2?"

Casey answered simply, "It is our sincere hope that this announcement today will go a long way toward doing that. This company remains firmly behind OS/2." That's the statement we've been wanting to hear! But perhaps most importantly, Casey also said, "People will continue to write and speculate about what IBM will do. I would just suggest to you to watch what we do. We continue to remain committed and are investing in this platform."

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