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MS greets Navigator with Bronx cheer

As part of their ongoing game of tit for tat, Microsoft issues a critique of the new Navigator 3.0 designed to rain on Netscape's parade.

As part of their ongoing game of tit for tat, Microsoft today issued a critique designed to rain on Netscape Communications' parade.

While Netscape celebrated the launch of its Navigator 3.0 today, which delivers free information from more than 20 content providers to the email boxes of Navigator users through a service called Inbox Direct, Microsoft criticized the service in a press release and bragged about the number of downloads featured in its own Internet Explorer 3.0 browser.

Today, Microsoft pooh-poohed Navigator's Inbox Direct as a service that offers nothing more than "glorified junk mail."

Netscape Inbox Direct is similar to broadcast services like PointCast, though it's more like receiving a morning newspaper at your doorstep than watching live feeds. The service relies on an existing capability in Navigator, an integrated, multimedia email client that allows users to receive Web pages automatically--complete with HTML forms, Java applets, hyperlinks, and Shockwave animations--instead of hunting down the same pages on the Internet.

The Redmond, Washington company also rebutted Netscape's announcement by stating that more than 1 million copies of Internet Explorer 3.0 have been downloaded since the browser was launched early last week. Although that figure doesn't correspond to a more elusive and meaningful gauge, users, it does illustrate how Microsoft is beginning to play the numbers game to emphasize the growing popularity of its browser.

In June, Microsoft began talking for the first time about its browser numbers, saying that there were 25 million copies of Internet Explorer in circulation. At that time, the company broke its silence about its browser downloads because Netscape announced that it had tallied 38 million users of Navigator, a number that Microsoft and some analysts questioned.

By cutting deals with content providers, Netscape is hoping to counter similar moves by Microsoft, which topped off the release of its Internet Explorer last week by announcing free offers from Wall Street Journal Interactive, ESPNET SportsZone, and other content providers. However, those offers include free access to Web sites, not an email/Web service such as Netscape's. Explorer does come with an integrated email client, Internet Mail and News, but it doesn't support the same breadth of multimedia capabilities as Navigator.

Lately, Microsoft and Netscape have also taken to attacking each others' feature and performance claims for their browsers. Two weeks ago, Netscape greeted visitors to its Web site with a browser comparison chart that said, "Next Monday, Netscape will take the wraps of the final version of Navigator 3.0 and reveal why Internet Explorer has a long way to go." Last Monday, Microsoft issued its rebuttal to the Netscape barb, complete with its own performance and feature comparison charts.

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