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Netscape looks to multimedia, security

Navigator users can now get a look at the next version of Netscape Communications' Navigator browser, which will feature beefed-up multimedia and security.

Navigator users can now get a look at the next version of Netscape Communications' Navigator browser, which features beefed-up multimedia and security.

Netscape today quietly posted a beta version of Navigator 3.0, formerly-code named Atlas, to its file transfer protocol sites.

Release 3.0 continues Netscape's push to make over its Web browser into what it calls a comprehensive Internet client, complete with email, news, and groupware functions. The idea is to make Navigator a tool for all communication that travels over networks, not just a front-end device for browsing Web sites.

The company has not yet set a date for the final release of 3.0, but the current beta version comes with several new add-on programs to enhance the browser's multimedia capabilities. The additions include three new plug-ins: Live3D, a virtual reality modeling language viewer for navigating three-dimensional environments; a video plug-in for playing AVI movies; and an audio player.

With the new multimedia features, the browser is increasingly resembling the feature-packed desktop applications that Netscape and others once decried as resource hogs, according to some industry observers.

"[Navigator 3.0] looks interesting, but it perfectly underscores the fact that Netscape is platform-mongering," said Stephan Somogyi, a senior editor with DigitalMedia, an industry newsletter. "There's a lot of extraneous stuff that I don't want in there. How big is Netscape going to get ultimately?"

For example, 3.0 will come with the first two programs that exploit the Navigator framework for real-time communications called LiveMedia. The first is the Live3D plug-in and the second is a separate application, or helper application, called CoolTalk that lets users make phone calls over the Internet using modems of at 14.4-kpbs access speeds. CoolTalk also provides the tools to have real-time text chats and a whiteboard function to let users in different locations work on the same data at the same time over the Net.

The CoolTalk and Live3D programs were created by two companies--InSoft and Paper Software, respectively--that Netscape acquired late last year.

The second major theme of Navigator 3.0 is improved security, provided through password protection and digital certificates. This beta begins to implement those feautres, but users will have to wait for future beta releases for the full implementation. Navigator has also fixed a well-publicized security problem related to Java applets and Domain Name Services in this release.

Version 3.0 also improves the links between JavaScript and plug-ins through a feature called "JavaScript wiring." When a user connects to a Web site, JavaScript wiring tells the site what plug-ins are installed on their desktops so that they can display the Web page content in a way that matches up with the user's system.

Netscape has also improved the use of frames and enhanced the display of tables with cell background colors.

The Navigator 3.0 beta is available for Macintosh, Windows, and Unix, but most of the current plug-ins are designed only for the Windows version. Cool-Talk is available on Unix; the audio player is available on Mac and Windows.

More detailed release notes for the product are available on Netscape's Web site.

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Netscape battens down security hatches