As the hubbub of alternative Web browsers keeps growing—from speculation over a so-called “Gbrowser” from search-engine leader Google Inc. to the many advances in the open-source Mozilla project—in the background, America Online Inc. has been quietly testing its own Web browser, dubbed “AOL Browser,” for more than a month.
Departing from its past embedded strategy, the company has made the forthcoming AOL Browser a stand-alone piece of software and it will not need the America Online client software to be running to be used, sources familiar with the software said. In what could be considered a surprising move, AOL Browser is based on Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer and not on AOLs Netscape browser engine.
Sources said the AOL Browser contains many features missing from the current IE software, such as tabbed browsing and “tear-off tabs,” where a tabbed window can be torn off into a new window. For privacy-conscious users, a “clear my footprints” feature allows for fast clearing of browser history, cookies, cache and recent searches. A pop-up blocker is also included.
Another useful interface element in the beta software is the “preview” of pages represented by buttons or tabs, sources said. The AOL Browser can display thumbnail images of pages as users hover over the back and forward buttons or over another browser tab.
Meanwhile, AOLs trademark “Running Man” graphic will be used to indicate page-load progress.
The AOL Browser will also provide several tools dubbed “Power Browsing.” These new features let viewers zoom in and out on a page, force a Web page to display in high-contrast for the vision-impaired, and highlight or list links on a page.
Under the antitrust settlement between America Online and Microsoft, AOL has the option to use Internet Explorer technology royalty-free for six more years.
AOL declined to comment on the story.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has faced increased criticism for not incorporating any new features into Internet Explorer since releasing Version 6 in fall 2001. Microsoft does not plan on releasing any changes to Internet Explorer until the release of Windows Longhorn, not due out for several more years.
While holding a vast lead in the browser market, Microsofts competitors continue to chip away at IEs installed base, a recent survey revealed. Microsofts browser dropped by 1.8 percentage points over the summer, according to data provided Wednesday by Web analytics vendor WebSideStory Inc.