Netscape is shifting focus from Internet to intranets.
After a year of pitched battle against Microsoft, Netscape has decided that it doesn't want to win the browser wars after all.

Instead of attempting to dominate the Internet with Navigator, its browser program for viewing the pages of the World Wide Web, the company has set its sights on an even more lucrative market - the "intranet".

An intranet is an internal corporate network based on the same technologies and standards used by the Net.

Existing network systems provide features such as e-mail and groupware that allow employees to collaborate and exchange information, but these tend to be limited to working with simple text messages. They aren't designed to handle more complex media such as graphics, sound or video.

The Net, however, is very good at displaying these media, thanks to HTML, the programming language that is the basis of the World Wide Web. By bringing Net technology to the intranet, Netscape hopes to revolutionise business communications.

"The browser is just the beginning," said Netscape's President, Jim Barksdale, at the announcement of the company's new strategy last week. "What we're about to see is an explosion in communication."

Using intranet technology, companies can create internal networks that are as media-rich as the World Wide Web. Internal Web sites can contain video demonstrations of new products, e-mail messages can contain sound and graphics, and employees can set up collaborative conferencing systems.

Few companies are actually making money out of the Net yet but Netscape estimates that the market for intranet software will be worth $10bn by the end of the decade. That is the reason for its change of strategy.

To get a foothold in this emerging market, Netscape is developing a new range of intranet products.

The first of these, Netscape Communicator, is a "client" program that will give individual users access to their company's intranet. It includes a new version of the Navigator browser, as well as additional features for creating and editing HTML documents, sending e-mail, and organising discussion groups and conferences.

Navigator, the product that made Netscape's name, will no longer be available as a separate product. Communicator will cost just $49, though, the same price as Navigator.

The real money, however, lies in "server" software, the programs that are used to set up and run intranets. Here, Netscape is developing intranet versions of its existing SuiteSpot server product range. This will consist of 10 separate modules, each costing $995.

Netscape has got off to a good start in the intranet market, and its products are already used by many of the companies that are now setting up their own intranets. It will, however, have to face strong competition from other companies that also want a slice of this new market.

Not only will it come up against Microsoft once more, but it will also have to compete with established networking and groupware products from companies such as Lotus and Novell.

It's a gamble, then, but one with a potentially huge pay-off. And, in such a new market, Netscape is as well placed to succeed as anyonen