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Netscape integrating IE, Netcenter

A software release makes Microsoft's browser act more like Navigator, so far as integration with Netscape's portal goes.

For months, Netscape Communications trumpeted the integration of its Netcenter portal and Navigator browser, but now it wants to blend that portal with Microsoft's rival Internet Explorer browser.

Netscape today announced "Netscape TuneUp for IE," a free ActiveX control that will make IE act more like Navigator, as far as integration with Netcenter is concerned.

With TuneUp, IE users will have access to some of Navigator's recent additions, including the "Smart Browsing" feature that lets users run Netscape-branded searches in the browser's Web address bar. Users also can download a "What's Related" list of sites relevant to the pages they visit.

Other Navigator-Netcenter integration features available with TuneUp will be access from the toolbar to Netcenter's personalization section; access to Netscape WebMail, Netcenter's software updating service; and address and member directories.

Upon installing TuneUp, users will be able to choose from among these features.

Netscape's TuneUp play follows closely on another attempt by the company to make its products more compatible with those of Microsoft. The company's so-called Windows-friendly push in the 4.5 beta version of Communicator (the Internet software suite that includes the Navigator browser) makes Netscape's software and services easier for users of Microsoft's ubiquitous operating system to choose and subsequently return to on a regular basis.

TuneUp also comes soon after a report showing that Navigator's market share has fallen below the 50 percent mark for the first time, thanks to gains by Microsoft's IE and AOL's branded version of IE.

In response to that report, Netscape has reiterated a theme it has been sounding since launching Netcenter at the beginning of the year: It's not the browser, it's the portal.

"TuneUp is totally independent of browser market share," said Netcenter program manager Ken Hickman. "This is something we would do if market share were at 40 percent or 20 percent or 10 percent. It makes sense to extend the reach of Netcenter to all of your audience."

Netscape did not provide precise figures on how many of Netcenter's current visitors are IE users, but Hickman said it was in the millions.

"IE users currently get an equivalent experience at Netcenter to a Communicator user," Hickman said. "The question is how easy it is for them to access Netcenter services. IE users now don't have the benefits of the integration points into the portal."

Microsoft welcomed the advent of TuneUp.

"They're trying to make their portal work well with IE, and that's great," said Mike Nichols, group product manager for Windows at Microsoft. "Netscape is recognizing in this announcement that more and more users are choosing IE as their browser, which we find gratifying. They're also acknowledging that the proprietary browser-portal link is a failing strategy."

Microsoft is revving up its own portal, called MSN.

Nichols noted that Windows and IE are designed so that other software vendors and content providers can build extensions like TuneUp. One company that does so is Alexa Internet, which powers Navigator's "What's Related" feature.