AOL Communicator Threatens Netscape

Sources say there is a movement within AOL to replace the Netscape broswer with AOL's new Communicator.

AOL this month debuted in beta form a stand-alone e-mail client bundled with a new version of AOL Instant Messenger and an address book, a package collectively dubbed AOL Communicator.

Code-named Photon, Communicator has been in development for close to two years, although AOL has made no decisions on how to market the product. But sources say a faction of the company is pushing for Communicator to succeed Netscape, which has all but disappeared from users screens.

AOL began work on Photon after the release of Netscape 6 in November 2000 was met with harsh criticism. Netscape 6 was based on slow and unstable beta builds of Mozilla, the open-source Web browser, and developers within AOL wished to make the mail and IM clients more appealing to experienced users.

Communicator utilizes the Gecko engine and XUL user interface language found in Mozilla, but it was developed entirely in-house and is not open source, according to AOL.

"Communicator is targeted to heavy users of AIM and advanced users of e-mail," AOL spokesperson Catherine Corre told BetaNews.

Instead of Web browsing, the focus of Communicator is to provide AOL users a unified e-mail and instant messaging experience, the company says. AOL Communicator Mail supports AOL, POP and IMAP e-mail accounts integrated into a single client. Also included in Communicator is automatic spam filtering, an essential feature also offered by rival service MSN.

Instant Messenger for AOL Communicator connects to both AIM and ICQ servers independently, but messaging across networks is not possible. AOL is currently testing interoperability between its two IM networks, but Corre declined to say when Communicator would feature such functionality.

AOL has enabled encrypted instant messaging for the first time with Communicator. Users can secure IM conversations using standard digital certificates in the same fashion used for e-mail.