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Netcaster tunes in Marimba

Netscape adds Marimba's 100 channel partners to the "channel finder" feature of its Netcaster push technology, now in beta.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) said today that it will feature Marimba's 100 channel partners in the "channel finder" feature of its new push technology, Netcaster.

More than ten channels are now accessible to developers who have downloaded Netcaster. "Preview release 4" of Netcaster is currently available for free public download and beta testing from Netscape's site. An alternative download site is CNET's DOWNLOAD.COM.

Marimba channel partners include Astrology.Net, Corel, Mapquest, Pencil Me In, Playsite.com, and Sesame Street. Other content providers, including Charles Schwab, Excite, Federal Express, Kaplan Educational Centers, and Wire Networks, announced their support for the technology, a spokeswoman said.

Yesterday, the push race between Netscape and Microsoft (MSFT) began in earnest when Netscape posted the beta version of Netcaster to its developer Web site.

Netscape also plans to release beta versions of "preview release 4" of its Communicator Internet client for Windows 3.1, Macintosh, and Unix. Currently, there are only Windows 95 and NT versions of PR4 for Communicator.

Netscape and Microsoft have been racing to complete their respective push technologies. At the same time, they are forming partnerships with publishing companies that will provide compelling content--in push parlance, "channels"--that will draw an audience to their offerings. Both companies believe that push will be a powerful new system for transmitting information to users since it automatically broadcasts content rather than requiring users to manually surf to Web sites.

It now appears that Netscape is ahead of Microsoft in delivering a push client. However, Microsoft maintains that the push capabilities in its Internet Explorer 4.0 will be more advanced than Netcaster's.

The platform preview release of Explorer 4.0 already has some rudimentary push capabilities in it, but a more sophisticated version will come out later this year based on the channel definition format (CDF), a technology that will use up less bandwidth than Netcaster, Microsoft says.

Microsoft isn't yet talking dates for that version.

"The platform preview code [of Internet Explorer] is exactly what you get with Netcaster," said Yusuf Mehdi, group product manager at Microsoft. "It's sort of Web crawl 'pull.'"

Information providers are not picking sides in the push race. Most are playing it safe and developing for both Microsoft and Netscape's solutions, as well as such solutions as PointCast, so they can reach the broadest possible audience.

"That's the only way to build a major business here," said Richard Zahradnik, vice president of CNNfn's Interactive division. CNNfn will be a featured information provider for Netcaster, but it's also developing a channel for IE 4's Active Desktop push feature.

Netscape's speed in getting its solution out to developers may help the company, but some developers believe Microsoft may have a solution that is tied in better with the Windows operating system.

"If the game goes to the fleet of foot, Netscape may have an advantage," said Brian Sroub, vice president of marketing at Hearst New Media. "If it goes to the best integrated solution, Microsoft may have an advantage."

"Netscape has definitely decided to use speed as a strategic weapon. Longer term, Netscape has a lighter client. Microsoft will necessarily have a big pile of code. That has pretty big implications for how they can distribute their software."

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