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Netscape aims beyond Firefox

AOL unit confirms that it plans to launch new browser based on Mozilla code--and it may have a few tricks up its sleeve.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
2 min read
Once chided for jumping the gun with its Mozilla-based browser, Netscape is gunning to surpass the original with its next release.

Netscape on Wednesday confirmed an earlier report that it planned to release a new browser based on the Mozilla code. The America Online unit this week issued an invitation for people to sign up to test a limited prototype of the update, to be released Nov. 30.

In its invitation to testers, Netscape didn't resist the urge to take a few veiled swipes at Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, which has fended off chronic security problems.

"We are excited that, on Nov. 30, we will unveil many new features that will empower your Internet experience," reads a note on the Netscape portal signed by the Netscape browser team. "While other browsers have seen little improvement over recent years--except frequent patches for security leaks--we have consistently added new features to save you time and to make the most out of your time online. As a part of our next evolutionary step, we have developed this new browser prototype, which could change the way the world masters the Web."

In 1998, the then-independent Netscape established Mozilla to oversee the open-source development of its browser. Netscape's releases have been based on Mozilla's work since the ill-reviewed Netscape 6 four years ago, and versions through the current Netscape 7.2 have hewed fairly closely to the latest Mozilla build.

This time, however, Netscape may have a few tricks up its sleeve.

"This is a significant step forward, an all-new browser," said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein. "The frame goes beyond the Mozilla frame, and the engine might have some surprises."

Weinstein said there is no specific date set for a general test or "beta" release, or for the final launch of the new browser. He also declined to say how the version will be numbered.

While Netscape browser engineers have undergone layoffs and labored in comparative obscurity over the past year (and AOL has announced plans for an AOL-branded browser based on Microsoft's Internet Explorer software), the Mozilla group has been gaining adherents with the recent release of its Firefox browser.

That release has won glowing reviews, heavy download traffic, and a groundswell of donations and investments.