Bytes: Netscape loses market share

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Netscape Communications' Navigator has lost ground in the US Web browser market to Microsoft, according to figures released last week by ZD Market Intelligence. The number of PCs using Navigator fell from 63 per cent in January 1997 to 54 per cent in January this year. Microsoft's Internet Explorer almost doubled, from 21 per cent to 39 per cent. In overall terms, 24.2 million PCs in the United States use a Netscape browser, a 33 per cent increase over the year, while Microsoft's IE is used in 17.2 million PCs, an increase of 182 per cent.

"Although Netscape did grow its number of users, the clear winner was Microsoft and its Internet Explorer," said David Tremblay, a senior analyst with ZD Market Intelligence.

Better news for Netscape came from the computer manufacturer Gateway, which said that it plans to "give its customers a choice of Internet access providers as part of the PC boot-up sequence and in the process offer those users a choice of browsers when they register". Netscape welcomed the news as "a good first step". Other PC makers, including NEC, Hewlett- Packard and IBM, are also examining ways to promote Navigator and not just Internet Explorer.

AMD challenges Intel with fast new chip

AMD unveiled its innovative K6-2 chip at the Electronic Entertainment Expo conference in Atlanta last week. The chip runs at 333MHz, and will later reach clock speeds of up to 400MHz. It has been described as "unlike anything Intel has", and AMD has boosted the chip's multimedia performance by adding extra instructions to the MMX set nine months before Intel was expected to introduce its own new instructions. The K6-2 also uses 3D- Now technology that enhances 3D graphics performance. Microsoft will support 3D-Now in its release of DirectX 6.0 next month.

Although, at a wholesale price of $369, the chip is more expensive than the current K6 processors that have taken market share from Intel, it still undercuts Intel Pentium IIs running at equivalent speeds. Manufacturers including IBM and Fujitsu will use the chip in forthcoming systems. Intel is expected to reduce the cost of its processors later this month.

@Home brings cable modem access to UK

@Home, the US cable modem Internet service provider, said last week that it will develop a British version of its high-speed Internet service through a distribution partnership with ComTel, a UK cable and telecommunications company. Under the agreement, ComTel will market @Home's permanent Net connection service, delivering content and applications such as news, video on demand, near CD-quality audio, high-speed games and software downloading, along with access to the Internet at speeds faster than previously available.

The Thames Valley and Oxford are expected to be the first areas to receive the cable modem service, with further franchises being sold over a two- year period. Costs for users are expected to be flat fees of about pounds 30 to pounds 40 per month, with no extra usage charges.

"With increasing consumer demand, advanced cable infrastructure and usage- based telephone charges for dial-up access, the UK is a tremendous market for high-speed cable Internet services," said Tom Jermoluk, chairman and CEO of @Home. "As a pioneering provider of high-speed consumer cable Internet services in the UK, ComTel is leading what will become a revolution in the way British customers view and use the Internet."

"The entire cable industry is looking at this," said Ian Hood of Telewest, a cable network competitor of ComTel. "There's no doubt that the technology works, and provides a superb service." Telewest is planning trials later this year and full service in 1999.

UK E-commerce depends on simplicity

Electronic commerce in the UK via the World Wide Web will flourish only if it becomes easier to use, according to a survey of 9,000 adults in Britain, France and Germany conducted by NOP Business. Security and available Web sites are more of an issue with French and German Web users. It was estimated that 1.3 million people in the UK had bought products or services over the Web in the last three months and that 2.4 million are expected to spend more money through it in the next year. Although most users rely on trial and error to find their way around the Web, 81 per cent of potential users said they felt they needed to learn special skills before going online.

The survey showed that European Web-user demographics are changing and catching up with US patterns. Typical users are now older and less exclusively educated, and come from relatively affluent households with children, NOP found.

"Web users are not lonely nerds. As the use of the Web widens it begins to represent the general population more closely," said Iain Osborne, Yahoo! managing director for Europe.