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Now you see it, now you don't

On the Internet, it's easy to rewrite history. And who better to demonstrate this than Microsoft and a product called News Viewer.

On the Internet, it's easy to rewrite history. Sometimes, even product releases can be made to have never happened.

Last week, Microsoft (MSFT) made this discovery after it posted a new Net program to its site: News Viewer, a PointCast-style application that allows users to tune into Net news broadcasts.

Like a noiseless Santa Claus stowing presents under the Christmas tree, Microsoft quietly posted News Viewer on its Internet servers last week. But just as quickly, some grinch at the software company yanked the program off the servers, leaving only a couple of empty directories on its Web and FTP sites as evidence of the product's existence.

Luckily, CNET's speedy Reviews department had managed to download News Viewer and even write a review of it before Microsoft pulled the program off the Net.

For the record, the review said the program allows users to receive "pushed" content, albeit only from Microsoft information sources such as MSNBC and not the broader sources available to PointCast users.

So, what happened to News Viewer? According to the company, the program was accidentally posted to the Microsoft Web site and there are no immediate plans to put it back up again.

"It should never have been out in the first place," said Kevin Unangst, a product manger at Microsoft. "We don't know how it's going to ship, when it's going ship, and if it's going to ship."

Unangst denied that the software was yanked because of a deal that Microsoft signed with PointCast this week that will make Internet Explorer 4.0 capable of receiving PointCast broadcasts. "PointCast or not, it shouldn't have been up there," he said. "It's just work under development."