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Netscape updates as Andreessen yawns

The AOL Time Warner unit touts improvements in navigation and spam control. Meanwhile, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen calls the state of navigation "an embarrassment."

Netscape Communications on Monday updated its browser, touting improvements in navigation and spam control--days after Netscape's founder pronounced browser innovation moribund.

Netscape, a unit of AOL Time Warner, has entered what many see as a precarious period in its nine-year history. Originally launched, feted and taken public as an Internet-based end run around Microsoft's operating system, Netscape and its browser fell into marginal status after Microsoft steamrolled the market with its Internet Explorer browser.

Now, with Microsoft and AOL Time Warner having buried the hatchet in a $750 million settlement that includes an extension of AOL's IE license, some wonder whether Netscape is worth its parent company's time or money.

Recent comments on browsers in general by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen--now chairman of Opsware--are unlikely to boost morale at Netscape's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters or to help convince AOL executives that the unit is earning its keep.

At a conference in London last week, Andreessen told Reuters that "there hasn't been any innovation on the browser in the last five years, and five years from now there won't be any changes."

Andreessen went on to call the state of browser navigation "an embarrassment."

"We had about 18 different mind for the browser," he said.

Netscape declined to comment on Andreessen's remarks.

Andreessen's comments, directed at the browser market as a whole, reflect equally on Netscape's competitors, including Microsoft. The software giant recently said it is discontinuing its standalone browser and is killing its browser for the Macintosh operating system.

Meanwhile, smaller competitors are focusing their development efforts on browsers tailored for nontraditional devices and applications, rather than on novel ways to navigate the Web on personal computers.

Improvements to Netscape 7.1 include support for domain names written in non-English languages and a spam filter built on Bayesian analysis of incoming mail. Netscape also is touting the browser's controls over pop-up ads, a feature the unit introduced six months ago in an upgrade to Netscape 7.0.

Netscape bases its upgrades on releases by the AOL-funded open-source development group. Mozilla released its 1.4 build of the browser on Monday.

Mozilla 1.4 marks a significant milestone for the browser's development in that it should replace the 1.0 branch in the group's development path, according to Mozilla's roadmap.

The group has been planning to switch its code over to a more streamlined version of the browser, first developed under the name Phoenix and then changed to Mozilla Firebird, following . Those "riskier changes" will come in the Mozilla 1.5 and 1.6 releases, according to the group.