Netcaster may change the future of push

Netcaster, the push component of Netscape Communications Corp.'s forthcoming Communicator suite provides an impressive interface and may change how content is pushed to users' desktops.

Netcaster, the push component of Netscape Communications Corp.'s forthcoming Communicator suite provides an impressive interface and may change how content is pushed to users' desktops.

Netcaster, along with the expected push capabilities in Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer 4.0, may eliminate the need for third-party push products. Alternately, existing push products will have to work with browser push capabilities, as Marimba Inc.'s Castanet does with Netcaster.

PC Week Labs tested a pre-release version of the beta that will be available next week on Netscape's Web site. We were able to view a diverse range of channels, including CNNfn, ABC News and CBS Sportsline.

Since we could view channels created for Marimba's Castanet, a wide variety of content is immediately available in Netcaster. We could also view Web pages, but here, Netcaster works like an off-line browser, doing scheduled Web-page downloads that follow a user-specified number of links.

Channels can be viewed in a standard window or as part of Netscape's Webtop, which works like a Web-based "virtual desktop." Netcaster is the first Netscape product to make use of the Webtop, but the company hopes it will become a primary workspace for users.

Using Netcaster's controls, which can easily be hidden, we could browse and add channels, set options such as update frequency, and manage the Webtop. We could also toggle back and forth between our regular desktop and the Webtop, and the Channel Finder feature let us preview content, bringing up an informative graphical screen describing the channel.

Netscape is based in Mountain View, Calif.