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Communicator, SuiteSpot betas out

Netscape bolsters the corporate features of Communicator and rounds out its SuiteSpot server line with beta postings.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) has bolstered the corporate features of its Communicator product, as well as the number of platforms it supports.

Today, the company announced that it has posted on the Net the first beta version of Communicator Professional Edition, a souped-up version of its browser and email software for business users. Netscape also posted a beta version of its Messaging Server 3.0, the final piece of its SuiteSpot 3.0 servers to be released.

As previously reported by CNET, Netscape last weekend posted a public beta version of the standard edition of Communicator, called "preview release 2," for Unix, Macintosh, and Windows 3.1. The company also posted a new Windows 95 and Windows NT version of Communicator, also called preview release 2, almost two months after releasing the first beta version for the Microsoft operating systems.

The standard editions of Communicator include "feature parity" for all platforms, which means the browser supports JavaScript Style Sheets, layering, lightweight directory access protocol, and other features that have been available to Windows 95 and NT users of Communicator since December.

However, the professional version of Communicator comes with several additional features aimed at business users, including Calendar, a group scheduling program, and IBM 3270 Host On-Demand, a program for accessing IBM host computers. Professional Edition also has a feature, called AutoAdmin, that allows systems administrators to centrally manage the configuration and preferences of Communicator.

Professional Edition is available for Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and NT, and Macintosh, though not for Unix. The standard edition of Communicator is available on all of those platforms, including Unix.

Although Navigator versions for the Mac, Unix, and Windows 3.1 have often lagged behind the other Windows releases, Netscape still has a better cross-platform track record than its chief browser competitor, Microsoft (MSFT).

Microsoft, for example, released beta versions of Internet Explorer 3.0 for Windows 3.1 five months after posting a beta for Window 95; the Mac version didn't appear until six months later. The software giant still has not released a Unix version of Internet Explorer 3.0 to the public. Netscape, on the other hand, has long prided itself on the claim that its software runs on more platforms than Microsoft's.

Netscape appears to have a healthy head start on Microsoft's next version of its browser, Internet Explorer 4.0. A Windows 95 version of that release is not expected to go into beta testing until the middle of March, and Microsoft has been noncommittal about its plans to create versions for other platforms.

Last week, Netscape released the new beta of Communicator only to members of its DevEdge Gold program. But last weekend, the company quietly posted the Communicator beta for the general public.