America Online (AOL) has unveiled the long awaited update to the Netscape web browser, but the browser won't be released until October and under a long running contract AOL must keep Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) as its preferred browser.
Netscape lost its market leading position to rival Microsoft's IE product after the software giant began giving its software away and started bundling it with its market leading Windows desktop operating system.
But AOL now claims its slimline Netscape 6.0 offering is the "most convenient, customisable and connected browser around". It runs in multiple environments, including emerging home internet devices, and is powered by Netscape's Gecko technology which speeds up browsing, displays tables faster and resizes web pages instantly.
Gecko is already supported by a number of industry heavyweights such as IBM, Nokia, Intel, Sun, Redhat, Netobjects, Gateway and Liberate.
Netscape 6.0 incorporates such features as a 'mini' companion browser that enables consumers to continue viewing popular information such as news or share reports for the entire time they are online. It also includes a customisable search facility and language translation software.
Due to existing contractual agreements, however, AOL is still bound to provide Microsoft's IE as the preferred browser for its online services.
In exchange, AOL's logo is prominently displayed to Windows users, and according to Barry Schuler, president of AOL's Interactive Services Group, this arrangement is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
"It is not that our heart and soul is not there. Who knows? Microsoft might like Gecko so much they will build IE on it," he said, stressing that AOL planned to deploy Netscape, and its underlying Gecko technology, in its new internet devices.
Microsoft's dominance of the browser market is a key element of the US Government's antitrust case against the software giant, but Schuler declined to comment on US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's ruling this week that Microsoft's attempt to monopolise the browser market was illegal.
"It's been a hard time for Netscape," he said, referring to the company's loss of market share. "Sometimes it is better to keep your head down and bask in the glory when you have good products, and I hope we can do a bit of basking today," he added.
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