In a further sign that the Internet is becoming the standard format for computer-based communication, the online service CompuServe Inc. announced yesterday that it would abandon its use of proprietary software and adopt the language of the World Wide Web.
Bob Massey, CompuServe's president and chief executive officer, said the move to an open standard would let the online service improve current services and allow it to quickly add new capabilities and content.
"By acquiring, customizing and deploying fundamental technology, we can free most of our resources from the labors of building architectural platforms and focus them on providing the unique added value that the customer needs -- today and into the future," Massey said.
CompuServe is not the first online service to adopt HTML, the programming language of the World Wide Web, as its standard code. Prodigy and the Microsoft Network already have done so.
But coming from the nation's oldest and formerly largest online service, CompuServe's action is testimony to how far and how fast the World Wide Web has come in the past three years or so.
The move leaves market leader America Online as the only major online service that operates on proprietary software.
Denny Matteucci, president of CompuServe's Online Services Division, said the switch to HTML would let it cut its time to market with new content by 75 percent.
"We will deliver unique, new products and content using Internet standards by midsummer and a world class service that anyone with a browser can access by early next year," Matteucci said. He added that CompuServe would continue to serve current users through its existing software, but virtually all new development will use the Web standard.
The move, which will let users sign on to CompuServe either directly or through an Internet service provider, does not mean its content will be free to anyone on the Internet. CompuServe will still be able to keep its content behind a "fire wall" that will admit only its members to areas with valuable information.
William Giles, a CompuServe spokesman, said users of the service will continue to pay monthly charges and usage charges as they do now. But he added that the economic structure of the service is being re-evaluated. Revenues could come from a mix of subscription charges, per-use payments, advertising and transaction-based charges, he said.
Giles said the technological change will give it the flexibility to adjust quickly to any changes in industry pricing models.
"It's kind of like when President Kennedy said we're going to the moon. You have to figure out where you're going before you can build what will get you there," he said.
Peter Krasilovsky, senior analyst with Arlen Communications, said the main advantage for CompuServe is that it will encourage independent content developers to provide material for the online service. Such providers now would prefer to write code for America Online's 6 million U.S. customers than for CompuServe's 4.8 million users, 2.6 million of them in the United States.
Krasilovsky said persuading developers to provide interesting new content is critical to CompuServe's future.
"The real significance of this is that it prevents them from becoming a dinosaur," Krasilovsky said. "They've essentially recognized that they've become a secondary service."
Krasilovsky said the move does not put immediate pressure on America Online to move to the Internet standard. But as the Internet grows, AOL will have to accommodate it too, he said.
The Internet is a worldwide network of computer networks. The World Wide Web, the graphics-enhanced part of the Internet, has been its fastest-growing segment in recent years.
Pub Date: 5/22/96