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Netscape nears next generation

Netscape's next-generation Web client inches closer to users as the company posts a beta version of the program to a Web site for developers only.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) has edged out Microsoft (MSFT) as the first company to support Java in a browser for Windows 3.1.

The company has also moved its next-generation Web client Communicator one inch closer to users by posting a beta version of the program to a Web site for developers only.

The company today added Java support to its Windows 3.1 browser with a public beta version of Navigator 3.01 for Windows 3.1. That makes Navigator the first publicly available Web browser on Microsoft's 16-bit operating system to support the Sun Microsystems technology.

Netscape and Microsoft have both been rushing to finish a Java-enabled version of its browser for Windows 3.1, which still has more users than any other desktop operating system. Both companies have been developing Windows 3.1 Java engines for months, but their efforts have been bogged down by problems getting Java to work on a single-threaded operating system like Windows 3.1. Java was designed to work with multithreaded operating systems that can run several tasks at one time.

The company is also hurrying to get out the next major release of its Navigator for 32-bit Windows platforms.

On Sunday, the company posted an "early preview" version of Communicator for subscribers to its DevEdge Gold program, which costs $495 a year to join. Only DevEdge Gold members can currently download the software on Netscape's developer Web site. This beta version is for 32-bit Windows platforms, not for Macintosh or Unix.

"The intent is to get Communicator out to [DevEdge] Gold members first and have them get an early look," said Lynn Carpenter, senior manager for developer marketing. "Then we'll open it up to community members."

But a widespread public beta test is just around the corner for Communicator.

A company spokeswoman said today that Netscape is still on track to make the software available for free on the Internet by the end of the year. If Netscape stays on schedule, users can expect to see Communicator later this week or next week.

Communicator is Netscape's next generation of client software and includes the Navigator 4.0 Web browser, Messenger email client, Collabra discussion group software, and Conference audio conferencing software. Announced in October, the product is the company's most serious foray yet into the groupware market dominated by Lotus Development's Notes software.

Another component of Communicator, code-named Constellation, is not included in the initial release for developers, nor will it be included in the first public beta release. The company has said previously that Constellation, which will allow users to receive information broadcasts on their desktops, will be ready some time in the first quarter of 1997.

The company has been in a hurry to release the core capabilities of Communicator--the upgraded browser itself, email, and discussion software--and that releases of other features will follow as soon as they're completed.