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Netscape founder Marc Andreessen doesn't think there's going to be any innovation in web browsers in the next five years. Someone should buy him a flight to Glasgow.

That's the home of Picsel, whose handheld browser we first wrote about last Spring. I had a chance to look at it in February and it's comfortably the most impressive demo I've seen all year. Picsel's roots are in file viewing technology, rather than HTML, and for co-founder Majid Anwar it's been a case of waiting the world to catch up.

This year, it's finally done so, with NTT DoCoMo in Japan opting for Picsel's browser and Sony including the file viewer with the NZ90 Clie.

Picsel is a browser and file viewer for PDAs and smartphones, and the web is simply one of the file types you can explore. Much as Apple's Aqua eye candy is hard to convey in static 2D, screenshots don't really do Picsel's sDoCoMo has Flash grabs here.

carousel

Picsel's "Carousel"

It's fast and fluid, panning and zooming around Microsoft Office documents and web pages. So far so good. But what Picsel calls its 'ePAGE' technology allows from some pretty clever tricks. One is to embed live content: we saw a version of Doom running in a cartoon, for example. This is possible with desktop systems, of course, but quite an achievement for a memory constrained handheld device.

webpage

BBC website

On his visit to Silicon Valley, Anwar told us that the technologists experience in optimizing the rendering pipeline - knowing exactly where to optimize - has been the key. Picsel also boasts a former Psion MD (and HP R&D director) as head of engineering and Sun's former worldwide sales chief Masood Jabar sits on the board.

The full package takes up around 2MB, although the viewer portions can be embedded in 800kb. It runs on PocketPC, PalmOS or Symbian devices.

Picsel provides tough competition for Opera and OpenWave, who have produced very impressive phone browsers this year, with the latter also offering a customizable desktop to phone OEMs. Both OpenWave and Picsel offer a messaging component in addition to the browser. Unlike OpenWave, however, Picsel doesn't require carriers to run middle tier server software.

PowerPoint

PowerPoint file in the viewer

We've been promised some software so we'll be able to put the rivals head-to-head fairly shortly. Understandably, Picsel has been fairly coy about demonstrating the technology (and the mysterious Barry S doesn't even have a photo) so these screenshots may be the first evidence you have of the software in action.

Picsel sells primarily to OEMs but versions for Series 60 and UIQ should be ready in the Fall.

With Opera and OpenWave producing some impressive engineering themselves, it's hard to see what Andreessen can possibly mean. Another symptom of Silicon Valley falling far behind the technology curve? ®

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