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Communicator betas posted

Netscape's support for other platforms than Windows 95 is in. Mac and Unix betas are in developers' hands; Windows 3.1 is coming.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) talks a lot about its support for platforms other than Windows 95, and this week the company is delivering the goods.

Netscape today posted a beta version, called "preview release 2," of its Communicator browser and email software for Unix and Macintosh almost two months after releasing a beta version for Windows 95 and Windows NT. The company also posted a new Windows 95 and NT version of Communicator, also called preview release 2.

A Windows 3.1 beta of Communicator will also be posted on the Internet later, according to a Netscape spokeswoman.

Initially, the beta releases of Communicator are available on a site accessible only to members of Netscape's DevEdge Gold program, but the company should open it up to the general public next week.

The new versions of Communicator include "feature parity" for all platforms, according to sources. That means users can expect support for JavaScript Style Sheets, layering, lightweight directory access protocol, and other features that have been available to Windows 95 and NT users of Communicator since December.

Although Navigator for Mac and Unix, and Windows 3.1 has often lagged behind the Windows releases, Netscape still has a better cross-platform track record than its chief browser competitor, Microsoft (MSFT).

Microsoft, for example, released beta versions of Internet Explorer 3.0 for Windows 3.1 five months after posting a beta for Window 95; the Mac version didn't appear until six months later. The software giant still has not released a Unix version of Internet Explorer 3.0 to the public. Netscape has long prided itself on the claim that its software runs on more platforms than Microsoft's.

Netscape appears to have a healthy head start on Microsoft's next version of its browser, Internet Explorer 4.0. A Windows 95 version of that release is not expected to go into beta testing until the middle of March, and Microsoft has been noncommittal about its plans to create versions for other platforms.

The new beta versions of Communicator include improved support for the Internet messaging access protocol 4 (IMAP4).

Yesterday, Netscape announced that a later beta version of Communicator will come with font technology from Bitstream. Netscape will include Bitstream's TrueDoc font technology in Communicator to help preserve the original appearance of text documents even if users don't have the appropriate fonts installed on their computer.

"Right now, the only font support [in Communicator] is based on an OS's installed fonts," said Eric Byunn, a product manager at Netscape. "If you try to use any font beyond the few a user has, it's really a crapshoot whether the user has it."

With TrueDoc, when a user visits a Web site that uses an unfamiliar font, the browser will automatically download the font from the site so a user can view an accurate rendition of the pages. The fonts downloaded by TrueDoc are erased after users shut down their browsers so they cannot reuse them in other applications.