The browser wars part II?AOL has come one step closer to re-igniting the browser wars of the 1990s by including the Netscape browser in its latest set of software for CompuServe users at the expense of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Traditionally, AOL has always put Microsoft's browser in its ISP software as part of a deal which saw AOL promoted as the preferred ISP in Microsoft's operating systems. But with the launch of XP last year, this agreement fell apart and there has been mounting speculation about AOL turning to Netscape - speculation which has proven to be accurate. AOL yesterday launched its CompuServe 7.0 software, trumpeting new features and the incorporation of the Netscape Gecko browser to add reliability and a "richer" web experience.
The company refused to say whether or not its flagship AOL 7.0 software, to be launched in the autumn, will use Netscape or Microsoft. With just three million users around the world, analysts say CompuServe's position makes it ideal for AOL to use as a test-bed for changes to the core AOL product. Dan Stevenson, analyst at Jupiter MMXI, said: "It is now highly likely that we are seeing the re-ignition of the browser wars. What is actually more surprising is that it has taken so long - the industry has been waiting for this for some time now." In the 1990s Microsoft fought hard with Netscape to establish dominance in the market for internet browsers, a fight which eventually led to the US government taking Microsoft to court for bundling the product in free with its operating system. Despite the court case Microsoft now has over 90 per cent of that market, and Netscape's user base has all but disappeared. AOL also announced in January it is suing Microsoft for its "illegal" tactics in the 90s browser wars. Stevenson said the move may be damaging for Microsoft, and particularly its flagship .Net strategy. "AOL could use a proprietary browser to limit access to some of Microsoft's .Net products," he said. "This could be a set-back for Microsoft." However, analysts say a re-ignition of the browser wars may not be as disruptive for web users and developers as it was first time round. Both browsers are now largely based on open standards, meaning developers won't have to struggle to build websites compatible with both browsers. CompuServe was bought by AOL in 1997.