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Netscape revving up new browser engine

The firm is expected to unveil on Monday a developer preview of the next-generation layout engine for Communicator 5.0.

Netscape is revving up a brand new engine for Communicator.

In a move long anticipated and warmly welcomed by Web developers, Netscape Communications is expected to unveil on Monday a developer preview of the next-generation layout engine for Communicator 5.0, CNET News.com has learned.

Netscape declined to comment on the release.

First announced in April, the engine promises to speed up and slim down Navigator, Communicator's browsing component.

Following the April announcement, Netscape dismayed developers by pushing back the release of the engine beyond the expected release of Communicator 5.0. A movement spearheaded by an advocacy group called the Web Standards Project was partially credited with causing Netscape to change its mind and move the release back up to year-end 1998 and the first Communicator 5.0 beta, which is also expected by the end of the year.

A layout engine, also known as a "renderer," performs the core work of Web browsing, defining how graphics, text, and other Web page elements are laid out in a window. Standards support is a key responsibility of the layout engine, and Monday's release is expected to bring Communicator up to code with HTML 4.0, CSS 1 (full support), and CSS 2 (partial support), the Document Object Model DOM, Extensible Markup Language (XML) 1.0, the Open Java Interface, and image formats .png, .gif, .jpeg, .pjpeg, .art, and .xbm.

The new engine is Source code for the masses the product of mozilla.org, a Netscape-supported group shepherding the open-source development of the Communicator code. Because it is the product of an open source effort, any software developer will be able to use the engine as an embeddable component once it is released.

Along with the developer preview, Netscape will unveil the product's official name. Netscape scuttled the first name "Raptor" after complaints from Raptor Systems, and subsequently dubbed the engine "NG Layout," for "next generation."

Netscape is expected to unveil the layout engine at the Builder.com conference in New Orleans. Builder.com is a property of News.com publisher CNET: The Computer Network.