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AOL to release new version of Netscape

This summer's update will address some security holes, but the minor upgrade doesn't look like the first shot in a renewed browser war.

America Online said Thursday that it plans to release a new version of its Netscape Web browser this summer, though the effort does not appear to signal a return to major browser development work for the company.

An AOL representative said that the new software will be based on Mozilla 1.7 code developed by Netscape's open-source offshoot. She described it as a relatively minor upgrade that will include a few security patches, but leave the interface mostly unchanged. "This is not a huge step forward," she said.

Netscape 7.2 comes amid speculation that AOL had all but ceased working on the browser following layoffs last year affecting some 500 developers in California, including most of the team that had been working on Netscape. AOL shifted some programming jobs to other offices within the company, including a new research center in Bangalore, India.

The layoffs followed the resolution of an antitrust suit brought by Netscape parent Time Warner against Microsoft, and a seven-year contract to use Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser in its AOL service, among other things.

AOL bought Netscape in a deal worth about $9 billion when it closed in March 1999. But the Internet service provider struggled to integrate the unit, and ultimately failed to shore up its business against the encroachments of Microsoft. Internet Explorer is currently used by more than 90 percent of Web surfers, according to site visitor statistics published by Google.

Netscape's most recent upgrade came last July, adding support for domain names written in non-English languages and a spam filter built on Bayesian analysis of incoming mail.