Facing a public relations nightmare in the face of the Apple/Microsoft deal and lost sales due to their insistence of keeping Navigator married to the bloated Communicator suite, Netscape today began reminding the world that their browser is still number one. In a press release today, Netscape described "tremendous momentum and strong market share" for Communicator. It cites two studies that say Netscape still has over 70% marketshare in the browser arena. This, of course, contradicts the generally-held view that Netscape's share--85% in 1996--has fallen to 55%-60% this year due to increased pressure from Microsoft Internet Explorer.

One interesting slight of hand in the press release: one of the studies that Netscape quotes is eight months old, and pre-dates Communicator by seven months.

"A January 1 market share number is almost a year old," said Mark Nelson, vice president of Computer Intelligence. "It's two years old in Internet years. So many new users are coming onto the Internet that the potential for browser market share to change quickly is very high. That's the trouble with an market share number that hasn't been collected last week or the week before."

It hasn't been the best week for Netscape: In addition to the obvious bad news from the Apple/Microsoft deal and falling marketshare that everyone but Netscape seems to notice, KPMG Peat Marwick announced it is creating a consulting group devoted to Microsoft technology, pulling all of their 18,000 Navigator clients and their SuiteSpot servers in the process. They will be replaced with Microsoft Internet Explorer and IIS. And lets not forget the Lotus deal with Microsoft that shuts Netscape out of Notes.

Most analysts agree that Microsoft will surpass Netscape soon, possibly even this year.

"I think Microsoft can drive their market share to 60% over the next 12 months and relegate Netscape to the No. 2 spot," said Richard Scocozza, equity analyst with Brown Brothers Harriman.

Internet Explorer product manager Kevin Unangst said Microsoft has seen a steady increase in browser marketshare since IE 3.0 was released a year ago.

"Users choose a product they like it better," he said, "not just because it's easier to get.