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Netscape browser ratchets up to version 6.01

AOL Time Warner quietly releases a minor upgrade to its Netscape 6.0 browser, which has been criticized for performing more like beta software than a finished release.

    AOL Time Warner on Wednesday quietly released a minor upgrade to its Netscape 6.0 browser.

    Version 6.01 is available from the Netscape FTP server, but AOL Time Warner had not, as of early Thursday morning, posted the update to the Web. The new browser also could not be accessed through the Netscape 6 SmartUpdate feature.

    America Online in November released Netscape 6 after more than 32 months of development. But the browser received sharp criticism for being too buggy and performing more like beta software than a finished release. The update is supposed to address those issues.

    While the company has touted the long-anticipated and much-delayed browser, Netscape 6 faces an uphill battle against Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Internet Explorer has about 91 percent of the browser market, according to market researcher PC Data.

    AOL Time Warner's Netscape browser is based on work of the Mozilla.org open-source browser project. Mozilla has labored for about three years to deliver a next-generation browser, casting some doubt on whether open-source programmers from far and wide can deliver a viable commercial product in a timely manner. Mozilla has said it will release version 1.0 next quarter.

    For now, Internet Explorer remains Netscape's biggest challenge. With the release of version 6, America Online tied more content to the browser than ever before, some of which is available from the Netscape Web site exclusively through AOL's browser.

    With a beta release of Internet Explorer 6.0 leaked to the Web last week, Microsoft has taken a similar content-tying approach. A newer test version of the browser is expected to appear next week in the second beta of Windows XP, Microsoft's successor to Windows Me and 2000.