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AOL-Netscape deal could boost growth of online commerce

For release Sunday, Nov. 29, 1998


The nation's largest online service and Internet provider, America Online, announced last week it was purchasing software upstart Netscape Communications for $4.2 billion in AOL stock.

The computer industry press has been in convulsions since the deal was first rumored about a week ago. Speculation has run rampant as journalists and analysts try to sort just what effect it will have on the Internet -- and more importantly, electronic commerce.

The purchase gives AOL all of Netscape's Web browser and Web server technology -- and access to Netscape's secure transaction system, which is used to safely transmit credit card and billing information over the Internet.

AOL will also get Netscape's Netcenter Web portal, or Internet home page, that Netscape launched earlier this year.

If you combine AOL's 14 million subscribers and the Netcenter's 9 million registered users (5 million users daily visit the site), you've got what arguably could be the largest media company on the Internet.

Sun Microsystems is also a player in the deal. The computer company will provide e-commerce hardware, and help promote, sell and further develop Netscape's server and e-commerce software.

The partnership is aimed at making it easier for companies to start up their own storefronts on the Web -- and it will likely give Microsoft some stiff competition.

But don't think AOL is breaking away from Microsoft (AOL's standard Web browser is Microsoft's Internet Explorer).

A day after the deal was acknowledged, AOL announced it would keep the Microsoft Web browser in its AOL software rather than replace it with one from Netscape.

By using Microsoft's Web browser, AOL helped retain its spot on the desktop of all new Microsoft operating systems -- a two-year-old deal that is credited with helping fuel AOL's continued growth.

The Netscape browser will next surface as a part of the popular ICQ Internet chat software, according to an AOL press release.

AOL's goal is to make using the Internet -- from both a user and business owner's perspective -- as simple as possible by pushing the technology into the background.

Accessing the Internet can still be a technical nightmare. And while AOL has been derided by purists as "the Internet with training wheels," its easy-to-install software and simple-to-use interface is one reason millions of people remain devoted customers.

BUILD A FRIEND OF BARBIE. I've been writing about the Internet for nearly three years now, and I've never been disappointed at the creative ways businesses use the Internet.

And just in time for the holiday season, the Mattel toy company has launched its own "My Design, Friend of Barbie" Web site.

Consider it a case of Burger King meets Barbie -- where you really can "have it your way" in the design of a new friend for America's favorite doll.

The site allows parents and kids to custom design their own Barbie companion. No longer are you locked into Mattel's choices of Ken, Skipper and others.

Using the Web site's design tools, you can specify eye color, hair color, hairstyle, wardrobe, name and personality for a doll, which can then be manufactured by Mattel.

The custom-designed doll costs $39.95, and gets shipped directly to consumers, along with a Certificate of Authenticity that includes the doll's name, recipient's name and a personality profile of the doll.

Barbie has a huge following among collectors, and the Web site notes that the first 25,000 custom-made "Friends" will be specially marked as part of the "Premiere Edition." Can you say "collectible," neighbor?

A word of warning: Don't visit this Web site with a fan of Barbie in the room unless you're prepared to use your credit card! Its a fun way to give your family Barbie fan a unique gift.

For more information, visit the "Friend of Barbie" Web site at http://www.barbie.com/mydesign/.

NEW STORAGE MEDIA. A new format of inexpensive, removable disk storage will be on the shelves by the end of the year, according to PC World magazine.

The Orb -- manufactured by Castlewood Systems -- is a new superhigh-density 3.5-inch storage medium that is aimed at users of the popular Zip and Jazz disk drives.

Orb disks will hold 2 full gigabytes -- and will be priced low enough to make it competitive with Iomega's products.

The Orb drives will retail for $199 with one disk included. Additional disks cost $29.95.

Can a new storage format squeeze into a market already dominated by Iomega?

The new Orb drives use technology created by Syed Iftikar, who founded disk storage companies Seagate and SyQuest (SyQuest recently filed for bankruptcy, due in part to its inability to compete with Iomega).

The new drives use fewer moving parts, reducing their cost and increasing their reliability.

MAC OS 8.5 ADVISORY. Apple's new operating system upgrade for the Macintosh, OS 8.5, has been wreaking havoc with some Mac users.

Some users are reporting that files and even their hard drives have either disappeared or become corrupt after upgrading to the Mac OS 8.5.

The bug surfaces most often in computers with drives that were partitioned or reformatted with non-Apple, third party utility software.

For more details and user news on the problem visit The MacInTouch Web site at www.macintouch.com/m85.html. You'll find lots of information about other Macs, including the new iMac.

MISS A COLUMN? Readers can find my columns archived at my Web site. Full archives are in the works, so plan on a visit soon to the address below.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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