NETSCAPE MULLS FREE BROWSER: WEB PRODUCT WOULD IMITATE MICROSOFT MOVE

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In what would be a major marketing shift, Netscape Communications Corp. may follow the lead of Microsoft Corp. and offer a free version of its World Wide Web browser.

Netscape has officially charged for Netscape Navigator, but Microsoft changed the game by making its Internet Explorer free when it entered the market in late 1995 and began a corporate resolve to focus on the Internet.

Now Netscape is considering formally offering its own free browser, a move that could help it reclaim falling market share.

"It's certainly something that's under consideration. That's not out of the realm of possibility," said Edith Gong, a Netscape product manager.

Added Group Product Manager Daniel Klaussen: "Changing the revenue model is a very interesting possibility. Whether that [price] approaches zero or not is why we all went to business school."

Microsoft's IE has come on strong through aggressive promotion and bundling deals with Web providers-not to mention that it's built into Windows 95. IE's market share reached 28% in January, according to Zona Research. Netscape has most of the rest.

Netscape now officially charges $49 for Navigator. Corporate customers, Netscape's main focus, generally pay up. Navigator's shrink-wrapped package also is a top seller at computer stores. But many PC users get the program free through software bundles or a World Wide Web service

Netscape is proceeding with the second-quarter launch of Netscape Communicator, successor to the current Navigator. Communicator, incorporating a new version of Navigator and other features, will sell for $59 or $79, depending on the

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