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Communicator, Netcaster beta don't mix

Net surfers anxious for the latest beta software from Netscape are stymied when discovering that the just-released beta version of Netcaster doesn't work with the company's newest Web browser.

Net surfers anxious for the latest beta software from Netscape Communications (NSCP) were stymied this weekend when they discovered that the just-released beta version of Netcaster doesn't work with the company's newest Web browser.

Last week's release of Netcaster PR 3, a feature-complete but not-yet-final version of the company's push channel tuner, followed fast on the heels of the release of Communicator 4.01a, which Netscape hurried in order to patch a JavaScript hole that allowed theft of Web browser data. (See related story)

Netscape couldn't quite keep up with all the shots fired, like a gun battle out of Dirty Harry, and now must release another version of Netcaster that works with the latest Communicator. The problem stemmed from the company's "smart update" feature, which only allowed users of earlier Communicator 4.0 versions to download the Netcaster beta. The upcoming Netcaster will be available this week and will still be called "PR 3," according to company director of client product marketing Mike Po.

For those who absolutely can't wait for the new Netcaster, the PR 3 version now available still works with Communicator 4.0 and 4.01, Po said.

The company underscored that Netcaster is still beta software and that bugs or incompatibilities should not be blown out of proportion, but Po acknowledged that the hype surrounding beta releases obscures that goal. "Sometimes even we forget that in the beta process we're going after feedback."

Communicator, however, is not beta software anymore and has already gone through two updates due to security holes found since its June release. The scramble to fix bugs has prompted many users to complain that the software was released prematurely. Po said the company's first priority is to address security problems as quickly as possible.

"We have a process in place where, if need be, we can crank out a new release," he noted. "If there are security issues, we will fix them."

The "smart update" mechanism on Netscape's Web site downloads only the part of the software that needs to be fixed or added, sparing users the need to download the entire Communicator suite each time a new fix is posted.