Netscape browser update released

After being written off by industry observers last year, America Online's browser unit showed signs of life Tuesday as it released an update to its Netscape Web browser.

Netscape Communications released Netscape 7.2, the successor to the aging version 7.1 released in mid-2003. The new release, which had been expected since earlier this year, is based on version 1.7 of Mozilla, the most recent version of the Mozilla Internet application suite.

Improvements in the new Netscape Web browser over the earlier version include tabbed Web browsing, improved print preview and integrated AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ, according to the Netscape Web site.

Analysts had said that the death knell was sounding for the Netscape browser after AOL last year laid off essentially all of its Netscape software developers and ended development work on the Mozilla browser technology.

Development work was taken over by the Mozilla open source project, which was originally started in early 1998 by Netscape and continued when AOL acquired Netscape later that year. Last year, the people behind Mozilla created a foundation, largely funded by a US$2 million pledge from AOL, to build, support and promote Mozilla products.

While it has been quiet on the Netscape browser front, AOL has not retired the Netscape brand, which it acquired six years ago in a US$4.2 billion deal. AOL is testing a new Netscape Desktop Navigator product and in January launched the Netscape Internet service, a low-cost Internet service provider.

Netscape was the most popular browser in the early years of the Web. However, its market share started crumbling when Microsoft Corp. introduced Internet Explorer (IE) in the mid-1990s. The acquisition of Netscape by Microsoft rival AOL and a lengthy antitrust trial could not change the browser's fortune.

Internet Explorer did lose some market share this year as a result of several highly publicized security vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Web browser. However, IE continues to be, by far, the most widely used browser with around 95 percent market share, according to Web tracking company WebSideStory.

Netscape 7.2 is available for Windows, Apple Computer Inc.'s Mac OS X, and Linux.

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