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AOL releases Netscape update

But the low-impact tweaks in version 7.2 of the software underline the moribund state of America Online's browser division.

Netscape Communications upgraded its namesake browser on Tuesday to version 7.2, a rare sign of life at America Online's moribund browser division.

An AOL representative minimized the importance of the upgrade, describing it as "mostly security fixes with some slightly enhanced functionality."

The update comes after a string of ominous corporate developments for the browser, including AOL's $750 million peace pact with Microsoft and its Internet Explorer browser, and last year's layoffs of Netscape engineers.

Netscape 7.2's new features include the ability to display saved passwords within the password manager, support for vCards in the browser's mail client, unspecified improvements to Palm Sync and controls for editing tables in the Composer HTML editor, AOL said. It also has a new Windows plug-in for Macromedia's Flash 7 animation software, faster loading of the browser and of Web pages, and unspecified improvements in standards support.

The last Netscape browser revamp, version 7.1, was released more than a year ago.

Netscape isn't alone in leaving its browser in a comparatively static condition. Microsoft has made only perfunctory upgrades to Internet Explorer in recent years, as it prepares to fold new browsing functionality into its upcoming update to the Windows operating system, code-named Longhorn.

While AOL has been cutting back on its Netscape activities, Mozilla--the open-source group Netscape founded in 1998 to develop its browser code--has recently been enjoying a renaissance, as its Firefox browser gains fans and investors.

Firefox is on a development track separate from the Mozilla browser within the Mozilla Foundation. AOL, a unit of Time Warner, last summer spun off Mozilla as an independent foundation.

Netscape 7.2 is available for free download or by mail on compact disc, with or without an installation and configuration guidebook.