Is the Netscape Browser Being Reborn or Just Stabilized?

AOL is planning to release an updated Netscape Navigator as early as June, but whether one of the Web's original browsers will make a comeback remains uncertain.

Written off for dead about a year ago, the forefather of Web browsers, Netscape Navigator, is being resuscitated in the coming months with an updated version. But whether it will mark a revival of the browser, or simply some life support, remains to be seen.

America Online Inc., which owns Netscape Communications Corp., is preparing a summer release of Netscape Navigator 7.2, an AOL spokeswoman confirmed with eWEEK.com.

It will be the first update to the browser since AOL spun off its Mozilla open-source development group last July, weeks after releasing its last Netscape Navigator, Version 7.1.

As has been the case since Netscape Navigator 6.0, the browser will be based on the latest version of the Mozilla browser suite, AOL spokeswoman Anne Bentley said.

The now standalone Mozilla Foundation plans to release Version 1.7 of its namesake browser suite later this month, which sources say could allow AOL to issue an updated Netscape Navigator as early as June.

It is unclear whether AOL is planning to unveil significant new browser features as part of the release. Bentley declined to discuss any new features or explain AOLs overall strategy for Netscape, which it bought in 1998.

But a new Netscape release does buck the speculation of industry observers who largely expected AOL to end Netscape browser releases. Along with spinning off Mozilla last year, Netscape also had laid off most of its developers and programmers, former Netscape employees said.

AOLs browser strategy has taken contradictory turns in recent years. AOL last year agreed to license the IE browser as part of an antirust settlement between its Netscape unit and Microsoft.

AOLs main client already had included IE, but the settlement and development changes also appeared to scrap a one-time plan to build the AOL client on the Gecko browser engine that serves as the core for Mozilla and Netscape.

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In January, AOL attached the Netscape brand to its new, low-cost consumer ISP service that offers $9.95 monthly access to the Internet.

Next Page: A former Netscape engineer says he doubts AOL will add major features to Netscape Navigator.