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AOL updates Communicator browser

America Online's Netscape division releases the latest version of its Communicator Web browser, focusing on consumers with new radio and shopping features.

America Online's Netscape division released the latest version of its Communicator Web browser, focusing on consumers with new radio and shopping features.

Communicator 4.7 offers Netscape Radio, a new feature that organizes Web radio content in a separate browser window. Found under the "Communicator" menu in Version 4.7, Netscape Radio plays music using Real Networks' streaming audio technology.

America Online stepped up its Net music efforts in June, acquiring online radio company Spinner and Net music technology firm Nullsoft, maker of the popular Winamp music playback software.

Netscape Radio is AOL's answer to competitor Microsoft's Radio Bar, first offered in March with Internet Explorer 5.0. The browsers are competing not only with each other to command the Internet music and radio space, but with separate multimedia applications such as Real Networks' G2 player and Jukebox music organizer, which give users access to audio content independent of the browser.

Netscape Radio is not the only addition to Communicator's radio capabilities. With Version 4.7, AOL also is including Winamp 2.5, which supports a variety of online music formats, including MP3, CD, Windows Media Audio, Audiosoft, Mjuice, MOD, WAV, and others, according to Nullsoft's Web site.

In addition to beefing up Communicator's audio capabilities, AOL is continuing its strategy of linking the browser to its online content with a prominently placed button labeled "Shop@Netscape." The button links to the shopping area of AOL's Netcenter portal.

Netscape, even prior to its acquisition last year by AOL, has concentrated on integrating its browser with the Netcenter portal in an attempt both to drive traffic to Netcenter and to shore up its browser market share, which has bled significantly to Microsoft's.

The browser update offers software upgrades, including AOL Instant Messenger Version 3.0 for real-time chat and one-on-one messaging, and Macromedia's Flash Version 4.0 for Web animation. The new browser also includes unspecified bug fixes.

AOL is releasing the upgrade for both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. The Winamp software is included in the Windows version only.

The Communicator upgrade can be downloaded here.

By most accounts AOL has fallen behind Microsoft in browser technology. Microsoft released its version 5.0 browser in March; Netscape has yet to release Communicator 5.0. A beta version was expected this summer.