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  Microsoft's Web Browser Overtakes Netscape's

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Elizabeth Corcoran
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 1, 1998; Page C02

In one of the technology world's highest-stakes competitions, Microsoft Corp. has pulled ahead of Netscape Communications Corp. as the maker of the most widely used Internet browsing software.

As of July, Microsoft's share of the market for browsing software had grown to 43.8 percent, compared with 41.5 percent for Netscape, according to a study conducted by International Data Corp., a market research firm. Three years ago, Netscape had more than 80 percent of the market.

The Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general contend that Microsoft is illegally trying to monopolize the browser market by including its product in its Windows operating system for personal computers. The department and states have filed antitrust suits against Microsoft that seek to force the company to either drop its browser from Windows or include Netscape's software in the operating system as well.

The study could help government lawyers buttress their arguments when they face off against Microsoft in court later this month.

Microsoft executives maintain that their market share has increased because computer users prefer their Internet Explorer software to Netscape's Navigator product.

"People are using Internet Explorer not because of the fact it's integrated in Windows but because its superior software," said Rob Bennett, a Microsoft product manager.

In December 1997, Microsoft's share of the browser market was 38.9 percent, according to the IDC study, while Netscape's was 50.5 percent.

Microsoft's share includes a special version of Internet Explorer developed for America Online Inc.'s online service. The AOL version accounted for 16.3 percent of the browser market.

To counter the impact of Microsoft's decision to include Internet Explorer in Windows -- and to give it away to other computer users -- Netscape decided in January to offer its software for free as well.

"It appears that Microsoft's current battle with the U.S. government and Netscape's software giveaway have had little effect in keeping Netscape's share from eroding," said Joan-Carol Brigham, an IDC research manager who worked on the study.

As the browser fortunes of Netscape shrink, the company has transformed its World Wide Web site into a "portal," or starting point on the computer network, called Netcenter, in an effort to generate money from online advertising and commerce and help offset the loss of browser revenue.

Netscape plans to announce today that it will add software to Netcenter that will make Internet Explorer work with Netcenter much the same way as Netscape's own browser does.

"What's more significant [than browser share] is making our portal the number one site," said Rosanne Siino, a Netscape spokeswoman. What counts, she said, it how many people will use Netscape's software as a "springboard" to the Internet.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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