AOL prepares its own browser

America Online is planning to release a stand-alone browser based on IE technology, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

America Online is planning to release its own stand-alone Web browser based on Microsoft's Internet Explorer technology, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

AOL Browser, as it's called, will be available as a separate download for Web users. The software will be based on a stripped-down version of IE and will be branded with AOL's logos, the sources said. Up until now, the Time Warner division has only offered a browser that's tied to its popular Internet service. That browser also uses IE technology.

Because it merged with Netscape Communications in 1999, AOL already has its own stand-alone browser. But unlike the AOL Browser, the Netscape browser is based on technology from Mozilla, an open-source browser whose development used to be funded by AOL. AOL's Netscape unit, however, has largely kept a low profile, and its once-dominant browser has just a whisper of market share compared with IE.

Microsoft last year granted AOL a seven-year royalty-free license to use IE technology in its products. The license was one of many concessions that Microsoft offered AOL as part of a $750 million settlement in an antitrust lawsuit filed by Netscape in January 2002.

However, one source familiar with the new software said the Microsoft settlement and IE license did not play a factor in AOL's decision to develop its own browser.

An AOL representative declined to comment for this report. Details of the AOL Browser were first reported by eWeek.

The browser wars of the late 1990s that pitted Microsoft against Netscape have long concluded, leaving IE as the undisputed heavyweight champion. Some developers have characterized the period since then as a dry spell for browser innovation, and have criticized Microsoft for shelving IE development.

Meanwhile, alternative browsers such as open-source Firefox and Apple Computer's Safari offer more features than IE and are gaining a following among sophisticated Web users. Netscape founder Marc Andreessen this week said that the rise of these new software products may prompt Microsoft to reignite the browser wars.

Competition may be a good thing, Andreessen added, claiming that browser innovation has been at a standstill since 1998.

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