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New Netscape adds Internet Explorer support

AOL has released a preview version of a Netscape web browser based on the open-source Firefox browser but with support for Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

The great majority of web users run Internet Explorer, which is part of Windows. Many websites are designed specifically to work with the Microsoft browser and may not work correctly in browsers using other engines, including Firefox's Gecko engine.

While current Firefox users can switch over to Internet Explorer when they have a problem with a website, AOL's Netscape unit has come up with a different solution. If a site does not display well in the standard Firefox-based configuration in Netscape, it just takes two clicks to display the page using Internet Explorer. The browser stores engine preferences for each website.

Because Netscape uses the Internet Explorer engine that comes with Windows, it only works on Windows PCs.

Netscape offers several other features, including some that give users a lot of control over browser security. For example, users can decide to allow pop-ups and cookies on an individual website basis rather than globally, and whether the browser should run ActiveX controls (in Internet Explorer mode), JavaScript and Java.

Like Firefox, Netscape has enhanced support for Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, and can display rotating headlines from RSS feeds in a special taskbar. RSS feeds are an increasingly popular way to syndicate headlines and sometimes entire articles from websites.

The Netscape preview is only available to a select group of testers. A public beta and final release of the new browser are planned for next year. An AOL spokesman said the browser and a new e-mail client would eventually replace the current Netscape offering.

Netscape was the most popular browser in the early years of the web, but its market share started crumbling when Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer in the mid-1990s. The acquisition of Netscape by AOL and a lengthy anti-monopoly trial could not change its fortunes.

Analysts said the death knell was sounding for the Netscape browser last year after AOL laid off 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 $2m (£1m) pledge from AOL, to build, support and promote Mozilla products.

AOL breathed new life into Netscape with the release of version 7.2 in August. Netscape 7.2 is based on Mozilla 1.7, a suite of products that includes a browser, e-mail client, Internet Relay Chat client and web page editor.

Meanwhile, Internet Explorer continues to dominate the browser market even though it has been losing market share since earlier this year with the advent of Firefox.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

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