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Netscape reignites browser wars

Netscape Communications has released a preview version of its Netscape 7.0 browser.

The Preview Release of Netscape 7.0 follows news that the Mozilla open-source browser is in beta testing and due for final release soon while Netscape's arch rival, Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), is rapidly increasing its market share.

Netscape, a subsidiary of Internet and media giant AOL Time Warner (AOLTW), has long been pitted against Microsoft in the browser race. Microsoft's latest version of Internet Explorer, IE6, has gained over 30% of the market since it was released in the second half of last year, compared to Netscape's 7% of the market, according to a March 2002 study by Internet researcher WebSideStory.

Netscape's new offering includes features such as Click-to-Search, which allows users to highlight a word or phrase with their mouse and click "Web Search" to receive a separate browser window of search results.

But the new feature that stands out the most is tabbed browsing, which allows users to keep track of a number of sites or pages as tabbed pages in a single browser window that users can click between. Tabbed browsing has proved to be a popular feature with Mozilla beta users. The Mozilla open-source browser project was initiated by Netscape and the company uses the same browser engine as Mozilla, called Gecko.

Until last June, AOLTW's Internet unit, AOL, used IE as its default browser, but the company has recently said that it is testing a Gecko-powered browser for the service. It remains to be seen if positive feedback regarding the new Netscape browser persuades AOL to make the switch.

The preview version 7.0 browser also boasts new media offerings such as Radio@Netscape, an integrated radio product that features over 175 stations that play a variety of musical genres.

Netscape says the new Gecko-driven browser is optimised for activities such as file downloading, searching, shopping and listening to music. Additionally, new customisation features have been included for both Netscape mail and AOL's integrated instant messenger program (AIM).

The launch of the preview 7.0 version is coupled with a redesign of the company's Web site, which has added content from AOLTW's expansive media holdings and a new toolbar.

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