RealTime IT News

Netscape: New Browser Beta Near

The latest version of Netscape Navigator has been anxiously awaited for some time, but users and developers will have to wait almost another month before seeing even a beta version of the new Web browser.

Netscape announced Monday that Navigator 6 is expected to be available in a beta version within in the next 25 days. It will be powered by Gecko, an open source layout engine that is smaller in file size than previous versions and is designed to load pages faster. It can also be used within set-top boxes and wireless devices, and is a key component to parent company America Online's "AOL Anywhere" strategy, the company said.

Netscape Navigator has long been competing with Microsoft (MSFT) in what has been deemed the "browser wars." Netscape's last major update, Navigator 4.5, was released in October of 1998, and the firm had planned to release version 5.0 in early 1999. After AOL's (AOL) acquisition of Netscape in November 1998, there have been no substantial upgrades to Netscape's browsers.

The slowdown in competition among the browser leaders has led to less-than-expected improvements upon subsequent updates, according to Dave Garaffa, editor of BrowserWatch (another internet.com property).

"The lack of competition has led to a dramatic slowdown of development," he said. "The updates aren't 'wowing' me anymore. Microsoft can move slowly on its browser development, and it has become the status quo now. It's certainly not the same as it was."

Another browser competitor, Opera, Monday released a beta of its version 4.0. While considered no real competition for Internet Explorer or Navigator, Garaffa explained that it does have a niche, and might have benefited from a stronger competition between Microsoft and Netscape.

"Opera has a definitive market, and everyone that I know who's gone through the trouble of purchasing it has been happy," he said. "More competition between Microsoft and Netscape would help Opera. Its products tend to be less buggy, and Opera might do better if the others were rushed to put out upgrades faster, thereby increasing the chances of sloppy software."

Though Netscape has been quiet lately, it has made some moves to show it is willing to compete with Microsoft for browser dominance. On Monday, Netscape formed deals to integrate Gecko technology into a variety of platforms, including IBM (IBM), Intel (INTC) , Nokia (NOK), Red Hat (RHAT), NetObjects (NETO) , Liberate (LBRT) and Sun Microsystems (SUNW).

"The groundswell of support from this diverse catalog of industry leaders is a sign of what Gecko's remarkable power will bring," said Jim Martin, senior vice president and general manager of Netscape Netcenter.

Monday's news about the release of Netscape Navigator 6 -- the company bypassed version 5 altogether -- should be backed up with results within 25 days, Garaffa said.