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Final Netcaster needs Communicator upgrade

If you want to use Netcaster, don't get too attached to your current browser.

If you want to use Netcaster, don't get too attached to your current browser. When Netscape Communications (NSCP) releases the final version of Netcaster--its all-Java "push" channel software--this month, you'll have to download a new version of Communicator with it.

Since Communicator shipped in June, Netscape has issued a series of fixes in response to security holes that exploited JavaScript and LiveConnect, specialized scripting languages that launch mini-applications within the browser. Some of the bugs also affected earlier versions of Navigator, as well as versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

This month's "maintenance release," dubbed Communicator 4.02, will include the shipping version of Netcaster and gather together the previous security fixes, as well as other unspecified fixes the company plans to announce at a later date. A Unix version has already been posted on the Netscape FTP site, and the Windows and Macintosh versions are due in the coming weeks. All three will require downloading the entire Communicator suite, instead of updating just a piece of the software.

The final Netcaster will have twenty "premier" push channels, divided evenly between a "Business" list and a "General Interest" list, permanently included in its main interface. Users don't have to subscribe to the premier channels, but their icons will not be removable from the Channel Finder menu that slides into prominent view from the right of the screen. Once a user subscribes to a channel, it appears in a separate My Channels menu below the Channel Finder. In addition to the 20 premier providers, the Channel Finder will take users to a separate Web page that lists dozens more channels arranged according to category.

Company representatives today were hopeful that the upcoming double release of Communicator 4.02 and Netcaster will put to rest the glitches of the last two months but couldn't guarantee an end to the bug parade.

"There's no way to predict the types of issues someone's able to find," said product manager Daniel Claussen, who added that recent events were a "natural part of the maturing process" of software.

Communicator 4.02 is officially a "maintenance release" that Netscape says has been part of its regular release schedule.

Version 4.02 will be available for downloading in different flavors, the most basic of which will not have Netcaster or other plug-ins. Users who opt for the basic install will still be able to download and use Netcaster if they change their mind, according to Communicator group product manager Edith Gong.

The upcoming Communicator 4.02 will not break the Navigator browser out as a separate component, said Gong, although she acknowledged that the next generation of Communicator will be more "modular"--in other words, the various components could function as standalone products.

"We've been starting to hear from customers asking for more modularity," she noted. "I'm sure that Java will help with part of that."

Gong and others with Netscape stressed, however, that the all-in-one suite is an advantage for corporate users and the company's current focus. One industry insider felt that offering standalone components might help focus the company's image but would distract from its main goal of pushing its software into the enterprise.

"The strategy [of breaking pieces out of Communicator] would be more about branding than economics," said Peter Jackson, chairman of software reseller and distributor Intraware.

As it exists now, Communicator is an integrated suite of applications--including the Navigator browser, the Messenger email program, the Collabra news and discussion group reader, and the Composer text editor--that must be installed and launched as one.

Netscape's senior vice president of technology, Marc Andreessen, has said that the company will have an all-Java version of Communicator next year.

Purchasers of Communicator on CD-ROM will receive version 4.02 with Netcaster included.