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AOL weighs online service for Netscape

America Online may launch a Netscape-branded online service by adding Net connections to the Navigator browser, according to an analyst's report.

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America Online may launch a Netscape-branded online service by adding Net connections to the Navigator browser in a bid to turn up the heat on other ISPs, according to an analyst who attended AOL's meeting with Wall Street today.

AOL executives also discussed a product called "AOL Plus," which is an enhanced version of AOL for broadband, wrote James Preissler, who follows AOL for PaineWebber. Preissler emailed a research note from the meeting, labeled "key points," to clients.

Preissler wrote that AOL Plus "auto-detects access speed and automatically adds broadband services." He added that new versions of AOL software will include a "multimedia console," a feature similar to AOL's Buddy List window, which will allow users to download high-bandwidth media applications. The company plans to release AOL 5.0 in September, he said.

"The new multimedia console could offer streaming media, such as audio and video, and alert you to new services. AOL sees near-term opportunities with music, enhanced commerce, and is experimenting with voice in a broadband environment," Preissler wrote.

AOL spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg said AOL Plus is "a working title for the DSL service rolling out with Bell Atlantic and SBC [Communications]."

Preissler added that AOL thinks home networking will be the first "killer application" for broadband.

In June, he added, a product called "You've Got Pictures," offered in concert with Kodak, will be rolled out in three cities.

Preissler said, "This new version of AOL is scheduled for the fall." Another analyst confirmed the AOL Plus details.

As for the Netscape plans, Preissler wrote, "AOL is studying the benefits of launching a Netscape online service by adding connectivity directly into the Navigator browser to leverage the Netscape brand to consumers and as a competitive weapon against ISPs, such as EarthLink and MindSpring."

Goldberg declined to comment on the online service.

Preissler also said AOL.com will launch its own search, relying on PLS search technology that it acquired. This will replace AOL NetFind, which is offered in concert with Excite.

AOL executives including chief executive Steve Case, chief operating officer Bob Pittman, and Barry Schuler, president of AOL Interactive Services, participated in the meeting.

One-third of AOL members use the service every day of the week, and one-half use it at least five days a week, the meeting's attendees were told.

"Where AOL is used over broadband, 22 percent of the people pay $9.95 to AOL and bring their own access," Preissler said.

AOL is battling cable providers, including AT&T, for access to their broadband networks.

"My Netcenter" is the "number-one" personalized Web page, eclipsing Yahoo and Excite, with 55 million page views a day and 15 million registered users, Preissler wrote.

The analyst continues to rate the online giant's stock a "buy."

News.com's Jeff Pelline contributed to this report.

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