Tech Industry

Javagator on back burner

Netscape acknowledges that it is seeking outside help to develop its pure-Java Web browser for network computers.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) acknowledged today that it is seeking outside help to develop its pure-Java Web browser for network computers.

As previously reported, Java allies Sun Microsystems and IBM stepped in last month to convince Netscape to keep the all-Java browser, informally known as the "Javagator," afloat. At that time, Netscape was considering layoffs, including cuts in its Java development staff, but both IBM and Sun believe that a high-profile application such as Navigator is a crucial piece of their network computer strategy.

Although Netscape has previously discussed the intervention of IBM and Sun, today marks the first official acknowledgment of a delay in the project. "The Javagator is still something we're doing, but while we talk to our partners it's on hold," spokeswoman Maggie Young said.

Young refused to name those partners, but a Sun spokeswoman said today that Netscape for several weeks has been talking to the company, including its JavaSoft division, on a variety of topics. Industry sources have previously told CNET's NEWS.COM that IBM is also involved in ongoing discussions on technical and marketing fronts. It is unclear how much work Netscape has done on Javagator or how much personnel the company will devote to the project in the future. "We definitely have resources on it," Young said.

One industry observer said that, with or without Netscape's participation, the project faces some obstacles related to Java itself.

"There are a lot of doubts whether the user-interface tools available for Java right now are good enough," said Tim Bray, principal of Internet consultancy Textuality and a former Netscape adviser. "They're brand new and bleeding-edge."

Bray said the biggest question marks for a browser built entirely in Java concern the performance and the richness of features. If the delay allows the Javagator development team to incorporate the new version of Java now in beta, the deal could end up strengthening the final product.

Young declined to set a timetable for Javagator development. Before last month's layoffs, the company said a beta would be due in the spring and a final release by the end of June.