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Fourth Communicator beta out

Netscape posts a fourth "preview release" of its Communicator browser and email software, though it does not include Netcaster.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) today posted a new "preview release"--the fourth so far--of its Communicator browser and email suite, though it does not include its Netcaster Webcasting software.

A company spokeswoman said Netscape intends to deliver a separate Netcaster component next week that will work with the preview release 4 of Communicator.

Netcaster is Netscape's foray into the emerging market for push technology or Webcasting dominated by PointCast. In contrast to ordinary Web surfing, Webcasting allows publishers to automatically transmit information and graphics such as news headlines and sports scores, without specific requests from users.

PointCast is not taking the increased competition from Netscape and other companies, such as BackWeb, lying down. Within the next two weeks, PointCast plans to enter beta testing for the 2.0 version of its client software, which will allow any Web site to publish information channels to PointCast users.

Netscape announced Netcaster on April 15, promising to release a beta version of the software within 30 days. At the time, the company said Netcaster would be included in the next preview release of Communicator, but the company has modified its plans slightly so that it could get PR4 out to beta testers earlier, the spokeswoman said today.

Although PR4 of Communicator does not contain the Netcaster software itself, it does include help documentation that instructs users how to operate the software. The Communicator start-up screen even lists Netcaster as a component even though it is not yet installed with the browser.

The spokeswoman said today that PR4 comes with a new "smart update" feature that will allow users to automatically download and install Netcaster and other components when they become available. PR4 also includes support for Microsoft's IntelliMouse; importing of corporate address books; automatic completion of Web addresses; and stationery letterhead.

Another feature called "smart resume" enables users to pick up software downloads where they left off after a phone line interruption.

Tomorrow, Netscape will also announce more than two dozen new content partners for its InBox Direct program, including PBS, People Daily, and PlanetOut.

PR4 is available for download from Netscape's FTP servers or from CNET's DOWNLOAD.COM. Netscape said it is still on target to ship a final version of Communicator in June.

Microsoft has released a preliminary version of its push technology in the preview release of Internet Explorer 4.0. The company said today that it has not set a date yet for the next beta version of Explorer 4.0, which will include a fuller version of the push software and an array of information channels.