Netscape set to unleash 6.1 beta

The company is on the verge of releasing Netscape 6.1, a major upgrade to its Web browser, for testing. But with business flagging, is Netscape a browser company any more?

AOL Time Warner's Netscape Communications is preparing to release an upgrade to the latest version of its Web browser, a move that comes as it seeks to bolster other parts of its business in the face of evaporating market share.

Netscape is on the verge of releasing a test, or "beta", version of Netscape 6.1, according to sources familiar with the release. The new iteration will be the first since Netscape released Version 6.01, a minor upgrade of Version 6.

That release, the product of a massive, 32-month engineering project that harnessed the Mozilla open-source programming effort, was roundly criticized for its lateness, lack of stability and preponderance of bugs.

News of the release comes just as reports have circulated that Netscape is de-emphasizing its involvement in the browser business.

Last week, Reuters quoted Netscape President Jim Bankoff as saying that "six months from now, you won't consider Netscape to be a browser company". The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Netscape was "stripped of responsibility for creating its namesake browser".

Netscape declined to comment on the impending release of the Version 6.1 beta.

A representative at the AOL Time Warner unit said the company has no plans to abandon its browser but does plan to expand into other businesses.

"Netscape has evolved from more than just a browser company to also become a provider of a range of tools and services including Web mail, search, IM, calendar, Netscape radio, and a host of others," Netscape representative Catherine Corre wrote in an instant message interview.

Sources familiar with the 6.1 release said it would be faster and more stable than its predecessor. Other changes include a new cache for storing frequently accessed files, an upgraded mail program, new search functionality, and--borrowing a page from competitor Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser--drop-down auto-complete for Web page forms.

The browser will also have a somewhat different look and feel.

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