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Netscape unveils 6.1 beta of browser

The release comes just as reports are circulating that Netscape Communications is de-emphasizing its involvement in the browser business.

Netscape Communications, an AOL Time Warner unit, on Wednesday released a new test version of its Web browser.

The Netscape 6.1 beta is the first new iteration of the browser since Netscape released version 6.01, a minor upgrade of version 6. That release, the product of a massive, 32-month engineering project that harnessed the Mozilla open-source programming effort, was roundly criticized for its lateness, lack of stability, and preponderance of bugs.

The release comes just as reports have circulated that Netscape is de-emphasizing its involvement in the browser business.

Last week, Reuters quoted Netscape President Jim Bankoff as saying that "six months from now, you won't consider Netscape to be a browser company." The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Netscape was "stripped of responsibility for creating its namesake browser."

A representative at the AOL Time Warner unit said the company has no plans to abandon its browser but does plan to expand into other businesses.

"Netscape has evolved from more than just a browser company to also become a provider of a range of tools and services including Web mail, search, (instant messaging), calendar, Netscape radio and a host of others," Netscape representative Catherine Corre wrote in an instant message interview.

Sources familiar with the 6.1 release said it is faster and more stable than its predecessor. Other changes include a new cache for storing frequently accessed files, an upgraded mail program, new search functionality, and--borrowing a page from competitor Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser--drop-down auto-complete for Web page forms.

The browser also has a somewhat different look and feel.