Browser wars enter portal phase

Further blurring the fuzzy line between browser and portal, Netscape has announced an updated version of Netscape Communicator 4.7 plus a few services for its Netcenter portal.

Netscape, now the underdog in the browser wars, introduced new tools, including a keyword Internet search, shopping assistance, a radio player called Winamp, and the latest version of America Online Instant Messenger, to lure more users. Many of the new functions, such as the search tools, actually draw on capabilities built into the Netcenter portal.

"If you make service accessible from a browser, you make it easier," says Catherine Corre, a Netscape spokesperson. "For a lot of people, saving time is a big thing."

To save time, people can use the keyword search available on Netscape Communicator 4.7, Corre says. After loading the software and launching the browser, instead of going to a search engine to find sites, for example, you can do a keyword search.

Tools for audiophiles

For audiophiles, the Winamp digital music player is now available as a free download on Netcenter. Winamp has an audio equaliser, a song playlist, audio visualisations and audio effects. It supports MP3, MP2, CD audio, WMA, Mjuice, and MOD file formats.

Netscape's updated Communicator also bundles another multimedia favourite, Flash Player 4.0 from Macromedia, which gives you streaming audio. There's also Netscape Radio, which streams music to your PC. And Communicator 4.7 automatically loads RealPlayer 6.0.5 from RealNetworks.

Communicator 4.7 also bundles AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) 3.0, introduced in August. Netscape is owned by AOL and offers AIM 3.0 as a free download on its Netcenter site. The portal gets 20 million unique visitors every month, according to a Netscape spokesperson. Netscape contends that AOL caters its services to a different audience, and it's not a conflict for Netcenter and Communicator to promote AOL's instant messenger.

Contests on several fronts

But blurring of portal and browser -- and the services associated with each -- is not unique to Netscape. Microsoft has already integrated MSN Search with its browser, its MSN Messenger instant messaging service, Hotmail and its portal site MSN.com.

Netscape's continuing updates indicate the browser and portal wars continue.

Microsoft Internet Explorer "has widely surpassed Netscape's Navigator as the primary browser in use in the enterprise", according to a May survey by market research firm IntelliQuest. The study of 308 enterprises showed that 59 per cent of respondents use IE as their primary browser, but found 41 per cent of respondents are using the Netscape Navigator.

In contrast, last year's browser study found use of Microsoft's IE lagging behind Netscape's Navigator by 20 percentage points.

Microsoft maintains its IE has not just edged Netscape's browser, but obscures it.

"Internet Explorer is clearly the premier browsing technology available today," says Rob Bennett, MSN director of marketing for MSN. He claims IE operates up to 40 per cent faster.

Both Microsoft and Netscape say they aren't concerned with the competition.

"It's a dynamic market with lots of room for competition," Bennett says. "There are a lot of players (big and small) that are doing a good job. We need to focus on making our services the best and the broadest and not get caught up in the day-to-day games."

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Alexandra Krasne

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