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
“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 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

“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.

“If the company is saying it, they better follow through on it,” he said.
“They would’ve been better off waiting to announce it until the day of the
beta release, because now the question comes up as to why it’s been so

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