AOL Time Warner releases Netscape 6.1 browser

Gold code for the Gecko-based browser challenges Microsoft's Internet Explorer - but is Netscape interested in keeping up the fight?

AOL Time Warner's Netscape Communications has released the first major upgrade to its browser software, Netscape 6. The upgrade, Netscape 6.1, was spotted by several beta testers on Netscape's Web site briefly on Tuesday before its official posting on Wednesday afternoon.

AOL said that the new software improves stability and performance, while adding new features such as more granular control over security and privacy.

Like Microsoft, AOL has moved toward tying more content and features into the browser; for example, AOL and Netscape content and AOL Instant Messenger are available in customised tabs attached to the browser.

The once-dominant Netscape browser now faces an uphill battle against Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which controls more than 90 percent of the browser market, according to researchers. This week Microsoft finalised what is expected to be the final version of the Internet Explorer 6 release, build 2530.1.

Beta testers reported seeing the Netscape 6.1 final code on Netscape's site on Tuesday, but a company spokeswoman was unable to explain why the code was briefly posted and then removed. She confirmed the official release date as Wednesday.

Netscape has recently been de-emphasising its role in the browser market. Netscape president Jim Bankoff was quoted by Reuters in June as saying that "six months from now, you won't consider Netscape to be a browser company", while the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Netscape was "stripped of responsibility for creating its namesake browser".

Netscape 6, first launched last November, has been accompanied by the open-source Mozilla browser, under development for about three years, which is expected to reach its final version in the third calendar quarter of this year.

When it does launch, Mozilla could ironically prove to be competition for Netscape 6; for example, Linux distributor Red Hat has said it will drop Netscape in favour of Mozilla.

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