Netscape 8 launch 'imminent'

Rumour has it that the latest version of AOL's venerable browser is about to be released

A Mozilla developer claims the next version of Netscape is about to be released and says it will be significantly different to an earlier beta version.

Gervase Markham — a core developer of the Bugzilla bug tracking system and former Mozilla Foundation intern — claimed on his blog the release was scheduled for Thursday in the United States.

"You heard it here first," said Markham. "Apparently it's quite different to the beta, because several features which weren't ready then are now."

A spokesperson for America Online (AOL), which owns Netscape and develops the browser, was not available at the time of publication, nor was Markham available to expand on his comments.

A beta version of Netscape 8 has been available since early March. That version of Netscape was based on code from version 1.0 of the open source browser Firefox. At that time, AOL said the product would remain in a testing phase for at least several weeks.

One of the key promised features of the new browser is protection against phishing attacks — emails that purport to come from trusted companies and lure users into providing personal details such as bank passwords or credit card information.

The browser will use frequently updated lists of Web sites that are suspected of distributing spyware or hosting phishing schemes to protect users.

ZDNet UK sister site ZDNet Australia understands AOL is building the browser through a partnership with Canadian software development company Mercurial Communications, as AOL has cut considerably the numbers of programming staff working on the project.

Although Netscape has been overshadowed by the success of the Mozilla Foundation in promoting its Firefox browser, a high level of interest in the brand still exists. AOL announced in October last year that the previous version 7.2 of the browser had been downloaded four million times less then two months since it was released in August. At that stage the browser was averaging half a million downloads per week.