Netplex Offers Perch for Internet Brawl

Of all the ringside seats now occupied around the Microsoft/Netscape rumble, none should be as coveted as those situated on the perimeter of the Netplex, the geographic area widely recognized as home to the Internet.

The greater Washington region and Northern Virginia have long been a hotbed of Internet deal-making, and whether it be a pact between MCI Communications and Microsoft or America Online and Netscape, Netplex companies continue to inspire the lion's share of news headlines within the infotech and communications industries.

Just last week when AT&T President Alex Mandl startled the telecom industry by stepping down to run a small but up-and-coming wireless firm, it was of little surprise that Mandl's new company was located nearby -- where else but the Netplex.

It also should be of little surprise that when Microsoft planned the rollout of its Internet Explorer 3.0 earlier this month, it sent Steve Balmer, the company's top sales executive, to rally the Netplex.

"It's not in our charter to make Netscape go out of business. It is in our charter to have a lot of people use our browser. But Netscape is a clever company, and having competition makes us each better, and we like getting better," explained Balmer to an enthusiastic crowd of Microsoft customers.

Besides the region's abundance of Internet start-ups, the Netplex is also recognized as home to that other formidable group of technology companies known as enterprise integrators.

"If there is a place where there has been more maturation in our relationships with large integrators than anywhere else it would actually be with the contractors here in Washington, D.C.," said Balmer as he underscored the role he expects integrators to play in the developer's expanding Internet vision.

To date, Microsoft has captured integrator loyalty like no other developer by influencing what Balmer today simply refers to as the integrator's "technical agenda."

Netscape has much to learn about such relationships, but industry observers have reasoned that the developer's cross-platform capabilities could make it an attractive partner to integrators, who like to boast about their ability to supply "platform independent" services. Still, that advantage could quickly be eclipsed if Microsoft succeeds in leveraging the NT infrastructure it has carefully cultivated within numerous integrator organizations.

It is this unique regional mix of Internet start-ups, telcos and enterprise integrator partners that has led many to wager that the ultimate Internet battle will be won or lost only a stone's throw away from where it all began.

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