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Netscape tools customize browser

The new software toolkit lets developers create their own versions of the Communicator software suite and the Navigator browser.

LOS ANGELES--Netscape Communications today released a software toolkit that lets developers create their own customized versions of the Communicator software suite and the Navigator browser.

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How free is freeware? Client Customization Kit (CCK) is another step toward giving third parties more control over use of the Netscape browser and follows January's announcement that the Communicator source code will be freely available to download, modify, and redistribute later this month.

Netscape in January also made its client software free of charge to match Microsoft's browser strategy. Microsoft's free Internet Explorer has gained roughly 40 percent of the browser market share in the last two years and has forced Netscape to restructure its business model along the lines of server software and Web site advertising revenue.

Microsoft has offered a similar custom browser kit since the release of Internet Explorer 3.0. Developers who want to make more radical changes to Netscape's client software--and even create entirely new products from it--will be able to do so once the source code is released at the end of March.

Developers who license Netscape's CCK starting today can create their own branded browsers to distribute to customers and employees. The kit lets companies add their own logos, set a default home page, add preset bookmarks, add setup wizards, and select either a dial-up version or local network version of the software. CCK licensees also can choose their own method of redistribution, either via download, CD-ROM, or floppy disk.

Because of government restrictions, a weak-encryption version of CCK will be posted to the Web, while a not-for-export, strong-encryption version will only be available on CD-ROM.