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Netscape's Java browser in doubt

Netscape Communications Corp. , still refining its client strategies, has put development of its Pure Java browser - dubbed Javagator - "on hold."

According to officials at the Mountain View, Calif., company, Netscape ((NSCP)) has decided to pull back on Javagator in hopes that it can find help developing and marketing the lightweight Java browser from some of its partners, such as IBM or Sun Microsystems Inc. Javagator was primarily designed as a Pure Java browser for Network Computers being built by the likes of Oracle Corp. (ORCL), IBM (IBM) and Sun (SUNW).

"We are trying to gauge the interest in helping us work on the technology from companies that are making NCs," said Jim Hamerly, a vice president of the client product division and in charge of Netscape's release of the client source code. Netscape is due to issue the source code of Communicator 5.0 by March 31; earlier this week, the company created mozilla.org as an off-shoot organization that is responsible for the management of the source code and developer activity surrounding it.

"We are looking to some of our partners to help on the marketing and development side and are trying to see how NCs are moving forward in 1998," Hamerly said.

As part of its decision to shelve Javagator, Netscape has also halted development of its next-generation HTML Java rendering engine, code-named Gemini. Not only was Gemini intended to be the new HTML layout rendering engine of Javagator and Communicator 5.0, it was also designed to be licensed by third parties who would embed the technology into their applications.

Hamerly said Netscape "learned a lot" from the Gemini work and is currently deciding if it should include some of those ideas into the layout engine of Communicator 5.0 - albeit not created in Java.

The decision to shelve Javagator leaves few choices for NC makers that are looking for a lightweight browser that runs cross-platform. One option is to use the HotJava browser that Sun's JavaSoft has built.

This latest move comes on the heels of Netscape's decision to kill plans for its Pure Java version of Communicator, which was due to be released late this year.

Javagator was rumored to be a dead project early this year; however, Netscape officials at the January announcement of the company's source-code release plans said it was still an ongoing project.