Netscape 6 to Debut April 5

Netscape's parent, America Online, will do the launch honors for the first time. Steve Case, AOL's chair and chief executive officer, will unveil the browser in a keynote address Tuesday morning.

Rooted in Gecko, Netscape's standards-based browser technology, Netscape 6 replaces the current Navigator 4x line that is struggling against Microsoft Internet Explorer.

All in the Engine

Beyond real-time messaging and other Netcenter support, Netscape offers few details about Netscape 6 features. Nor is AOL saying whether this version will replace its browser. But Netscape is chattering about Gecko.

Gecko is the first product from Netscape based on contributions from Mozilla, the organization managing Netscape's open source initiative. The Gecko engine renders graphics and text, and promises faster surfing. Its smaller size means browsers like Netscape 6 will download quickly.

Netscape 6 will be a 5.5MB download, says Eric Krock, senior product manager. Netscape 4 is a 15MB download, and IE 5.5 is a 29.4MB download for the full installation.

Gecko retrieves and lays out content quickly, thanks to support for client-side scripting and data manipulation. It supports Extensible Markup Language and HTML 4, and operates across platforms and devices.

Because Gecko supports Web standards, people can develop Web applications that run on any device that embeds Gecko, such as a handheld unit or Web phone, Krock says.

And AOL plans to use Gecko across its product line, Krock says. AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, and AOL TV will add Gecko support.

Battle Browser Boredom

With few of us losing any sleep over our choice of Web browser, is this second wind from Netscape too little, too late?

Netscape has slid from dominating the browser market in 1996 to a 36 percent share, behind IE, according to a November study by Zona Research.

Microsoft won the browser war, but not because of market share, says Ross Scott Rubin, a Jupiter Communications analyst.

"It won by convincing us the browser is part of the operating system," Rubin says. Applications like Macromedia's Flash, for example, are browser-independent and rely on a device's OS instead.

Although Microsoft's bundling of IE and Windows is challenged in ongoing antitrust litigation, most of us have switched to IE.

Even if it's too late for Netscape 6, Gecko may scamper into places where browsers are just beginning to appear.

"Gecko is free, open source, has a cross-platform architecture, and is embeddable, making it ideal for powering non-PC internet devices," Krock says. "It can bring the same richness of browsing on a desktop to machines that are easier to use."

But you won't see Gecko on your monochrome Palm, Krock adds. It's intended to run on devices that support color, animation, and full browsing functions. You might see Gecko on a Pocket PC.

Intel and Nokia are developing a TV-enhanced browser based on Gecko, and Liberate will add Gecko browsers to its next-generation set-top boxes, Krock says. IBM, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems also support Gecko.

Tom Spring contributed to this report.

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Cameron Crouch

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