Navigator’s Beta Nods to IE, Firefox

America Online released an updated prototype of its Netscape Navigator browser today to a limited number of beta testers.

The prototype, based on code from company spin-off Mozilla’s Firefox, borrows much of the functionality and format from the increasingly popular browser, while keeping the traditional green esthetic associated with the once-mighty brand.

The new browser has pop-up controls, tabbed browsing features, password manager and content built into the browser. But the most interesting and unique feature, says a source close to Netscape, is the dual rendering and layout engines that allow users to switch between Firefox and Internet Explorer. The move makes sense for AOL, which is also working on a stand-alone browser based on Microsoft’s own IE technology.

Netscape Navigator
Click on the graphic for a larger

The latest beta arrives amid a rise in alternative browsers. As security issues continue to plague Microsoft’s dominant Internet Explorer (IE), upstarts like Firefox, Apple’s Safari and a handful of alternative browsers have chipped away at the company’s market share.

One analyst estimates that IE has anywhere from 88 percent to 93 percent of the browser market.

As recently reported, research firm WebSideStory said Netscape and Mozilla variants gained a positive 2.48 percent market share: from 3.54 percent in June to 6.02 percent at the end of October.

Since the release of Firefox 1.0 on Nov. 9th, the Mozilla Foundation claims 8 million downloads.

The Mozilla open source browser, from which Firefox is spun, was open sourced by Netscape in 1998. The project spun off from AOL’s Netscape division in July 2003 to form the Mozilla Foundation.

The last time AOL developers released an updated version of the Netscape browser, version 7.2. was in August. The upgrade brought it up to date with Mozilla 1.7.

AOL officials said they have not set a schedule for the final market release and would not disclose what version number the product would receive.

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