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New CompuServe may ship without IE

AOL Time Warner confirms Gecko sightings in test versions of CompuServe 7, a sign that the technology could replace Internet Explorer as the online service's default Web browser.

AOL Time Warner on Thursday confirmed Gecko sightings in test versions of CompuServe 7, a sign that the technology could replace Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the online service's default Web browser.

The tests will allow the media giant to determine whether the upcoming CompuServe version will come packaged with browser technology from the company's own Netscape Communications unit. CompuServe, like the America Online flagship service, uses Microsoft's Internet Explorer as its default browser.

"It's currently being tested as the default browser in the new CompuServe beta," said Cindy Harvey, an AOL spokeswoman, referring to Gecko. There have been "no decisions as to what will be in the final CompuServe client or when that will be."

If CompuServe 7 comes packaged with Gecko, it could be one step toward rekindling the Web browser wars from the late '90s. Once the hands-down leader of browser technology, Netscape Communications, now a division of AOL, has let its browser slip into the middle of the pack.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has jumped ahead, but its means of gaining market share from Netscape brought Justice Department scrutiny for monopolistic behavior.

Gecko is a rendering engine that serves as the backbone technology for displaying text and graphics on the Net. Gecko uses XUL (Extensible User Interface Language), a technology used to create user interfaces with Web programming languages rather than with computer coding languages. AOL has used Gecko technology to power non-PC Web devices as part of its "AOL Anywhere" strategy.

Placing Gecko in CompuServe could set the foundation to eliminating AOL's reliance on Internet Explorer.

The CompuServe trials come as competition between AOL and Microsoft reinforces a chill in their relationship. The two technology giants once had an agreement for AOL to use Internet Explorer as its default browser in exchange for being shipped with versions of Microsoft's ubiquitous Windows operating system.

However, signs of a split emerged in April when a leaked document detailed an initiative for CompuServe to use Gecko technology for a browser expected in fall 2001. The document said a new software, dubbed "Komodo," would allow CompuServe to use any browser technology as its default, including Gecko.

In June, the companies scrapped negotiations for AOL to be shipped with the upcoming release of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. The dissolution opened the door for the companies to go their separate ways but also eliminated a key distribution source for AOL.

AOL's Harvey said the release date for CompuServe 7 has not been determined. She added that AOL 7, which was unveiled Tuesday, does not use Gecko technology and still runs Internet Explorer as its default browser.