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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

AOL Time Warner Inc's Netscape unit is about to launch a campaign aimed at attracting users and developers back to its browser software, which has been all but buried by Microsoft Corp's Internet Explorer.


The company yesterday announced the release of Netscape 7.0, just a day after a research firm announced that the browser has lost all but 4% of the market to IE. A Netscape spokesperson said the company will this week start "extensive advertising across all AOL Time Warner properties."

But the campaign will stop short of marketing the browser to AOL's 34 million subscribers, all of which use a proprietary client built on top of IE. AOL has a test version of its client based on Gecko, the same rendering engine as Netscape 6 and 7, in circulation, but has not yet said if future versions of AOL will use the browser.

"AOL is committed to Gecko," the Netscape spokesperson said. "They're now using it in AOL clients for Mac OS X and on their CompuServe internet service... For the time being AOL has not decided to switch out IE for Gecko in 8.0."

Since the release of Netscape 6.0, the company has employed a 15-person team of "evangelists", engineers and web developers, whose purpose it is to push Netscape compatibility to high-traffic web sites. The top 1,700 web sites, as ranked by Media Metrix, have been approached by the evangelists and made compatible.

"They reviewed how the sites worked in a Netscape environment," the spokesperson said. "If they saw problems they worked to get them fixed." He said that when Netscape 6.0 was released in April 2000, about 60% to 70% of web sites were 100% Gecko-compatible, and now that figure is more like 97%.

However, some developers say this could be because Gecko has become more IE-compatible, using a similar implementation of the Document Object Model, for example. "Netscape 7.0 and IE6 offer largely similar support for the major web standards, such as HTML and the DOM," the Netscape spokesperson said.

According to WebSideStory Inc, which scrapes browser usage statistics from the logs of millions of web sites, IE now has a 96% market share, compared to 87% a year ago, while Netscape's share has shrunk to under 4% from 13% in the same time period. WebSideStory said: "The browser war is in fact a massacre."

"'Browser war' is a misnomer for Microsoft's anticompetitive tactics over the last couple of years," the Netscape spokesperson said in response. The company believes its share is higher than WebSideStory claims, though not much more. AOL is currently suing Microsoft over the anticompetitive tactics a court found it used to get the advantage over Netscape during the 1990s.

Netscape 7 will have additional features to increase ease-of-use, such as tabbed browsing and a search function that defaults to netscape.com's Google-based web search engine. The mail client has also had its search features revamped for speed and has had new filtering features added. AOL Instant Messenger is also included.

The company has also taken a strategy notably employed by RealNetworks Inc to get around the fact that IE, being part of Windows, launches much faster than rival applications. Netscape 7 has a "Quick Launch" feature similar to RealPlayer, in which the browser resides in memory from the launch of Windows, making launching faster.

© ComputerWire

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