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Plug-in Fever


by Glen Emerson Morris

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The war between Netscape and Microsoft for the dominance of the Internet may end with advertising and marketing interests being the biggest winners. Netscape isn't likely to do too badly either. They're reporting over 100,000 Netscape servers sold in the last quarter, at an average price of about $1000. If this continues, Netscape's income over the next fiscal year could easily exceed one billion dollars. Their research and development budget alone could exceed one hundred million dollars.

Whatever their R&D budget is, it is substantial, and it shows in the quality of their products, and their acceptance in the market. Current estimates of Netscape's share of the Internet browser market range between 84 and 87.6 percent. In comparison, Microsoft barely shows a presence in the Internet browser market. Strictly based on the numbers, software developers are standing in line to jump on the Netscape bandwagon, and Netscape has made it easy for them to hop on.

Netscape has adopted a strategy similar to one used by QuarkXPress and Adobe Photoshop. Netscape has programmed its browser to accept additional program modules, called plug-ins, from third party developers. Plug-in architecture allows many separate and competing companies to develop products that substantially enhance the features and value of the products they are designed to work with.

Most Netscape plug-ins are designed to solve the single biggest problem advertisers face on the Internet, the graphic limitations of HTML, the Internet's page description language.

The primary purpose of Netscape plug-ins is to present information to the viewer in formats other than HTML. These additional formats can include sound, high quality animated graphics, video, virtually everything required for multimedia presentations.

The software required to see and hear the additional features is free. The software required to create Web pages using the new features isn't. Some plug-in developer applications, like WebActive, a plug-in that creates 3D rotating graphics, cost under $30. Others cost several hundred dollars.

Netscape lined up a substantial set of third party developers well before the release of Netscape 2.0. As of August, 1996, Netscape had over 80 plug-ins available on its Web site for downloading.

Toyota is already making use of a third party Netscape plug-in called PhotoBubble. As its name implies, this technology essentially places a viewer within a bubble of seamless integrated photographs. This capability solves one of the classic problem of selling new cars, how to show people what the interior looks like, without getting them on the car lot first. Most car commercials and ads usually only show what the car looks like on the outside. This is unfortunate, since most people spend much more time inside their car, than they do outside looking at it.

Toyota has PhotoBubbles for 13 different car models available for downloading on their Web page. Most appear to be under 200K in size, and take less than two minutes to download with a 28.8 modem. The view is the next best thing to being there. By moving the mouse and clicking, a user can see the interior of the car from any angle, from the point of view of the drivers head. The driver's seat is even transparent to allow a good view of the back seat. Toyota cheerfully offers a CD-ROM with PhotoBubbles of all 13 different models, and additional video, walk-arounds, and other multimedia based information about their cars.

PhotoBubble technology is a good example of a plug-in targeted at a specific kind of marketing need. Other plug-ins solve more generic needs. There is already a plug-in available which works with Director, for multimedia on the net. Adobe is also entering the fray with an Acrobat plug-in allowing Postscript files, like a catalog, to be viewed directly over the Internet with the same photographic and typeset quality as print. Acrobat needs four megs of RAM to run, a major hurdle only a year or two ago, but now just a minor issue. In August, 1996, 8 megs simms were selling in Silicon Valley for less than $45.00, including tax.

Getting the right plug-ins won't present much of a problem to Netscape users either. Most Web sites will have the needed plug-ins available for down loading, others will simply point to a Netscape Web page with over 80 plug-ins available for downloading.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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