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Netcaster to ship this week

Netscape will ship its "push" channel software this week with support from Disney, Time Incorporated, and the News Corporation.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) will ship its Netcaster "push" channel software this week with support from media giants Walt Disney Company, Time Incorporated, and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, the company said today.

Netcaster will initially give users access to more than than 700 channels. The premier real estate on the Netcaster screen will be divided into business and home categories. Premier home channels include Disney, Excite Personal, TV Guide Entertainment Network, CBS Sportsline, Hearst Home Arts, Netscape Guide by Yahoo, MTV Online, and Time New Media's Money.com.

Premier business channels include Fast Company, Federal Express, IndustryWeek, ABCNews.com, CNNfn, Gartner Group Adviser, Industry Watch, and Travelocity.

At the outset, hundreds more channels will be accessible through Netcaster's Channel Finder, including Fox News, Quote.com, USA Today, Capitol Records, Sesame Street, The Sporting News, and the Weather Channel. Many of the content partners were announced earlier this year.

Disney, for one, already has struck a similar content deal with Microsoft, which is expected to release a final version of its own push technology as part of its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser by the end of the summer. A Disney executive said Netscape and Microsoft wanted exclusive deals, but it opted to take a "Switzerland" approach instead, alluding to a stance of neutrality in content distribution. Many other content partners did the same.

However, Disney maintains a close distribution and promotional arrangement with Microsoft for its Disney Daily Blast online service for children.

Netcaster will ship with version 4.02 of the Communicator software suite and will not work with any previous version, Netscape said last week. It will be available from the company's Web site this week.

The standard edition of Communicator 4.02 will be $59, while a Professional Edition will cost $79. Both versions include Netcaster.

Netscape has been racing to beat rival Microsoft to the push punch, and the competition for content partners has shaped up like a face-off for the best prime-time TV shows.

Netcaster is a pure-Java program and was originally slated to ship with Communicator two months ago. Since its June launch, Communicator has undergone frequent updates to repair Java and JavaScript-related bugs. The Netcaster-friendly Communicator 4.02 is meant to address those holes and other unspecified problems.

Netcaster channels are built with HTML, Java, and JavaScript. Netscape has created a "wizard" that helps developers quickly build the framework for a channel. A similar tool is available to build "Webtops," customized environments that turn a user's desktop "wallpaper" into an interactive channel.

Netscape envisions the Webtop as a tool for PC manufacturers to build their own shell over Windows or for corporations to create their own internal information delivery channel.

"I wouldn't say [building a Webtop] is for the home tinkerer, but it's not just for OEMs," said Tim Hickman, Netcaster product manager. "We see corporate IT managers, for example, deploying the Webtop across all their different machines for a common interface."

Third parties looking to build Webtops or to integrate the Netcaster-Communicator technology into customized enterprise applications will pay the same license fees as regular mass deployers of the Communicator suite, Hickman added. He declined to specify Netscape's license fee structure.