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AOL puts Gecko everywhere but PCs
LOS ANGELES (IDG) -- Armed with Netscape's Gecko browsing engine, America Online has announced Gateway Internet appliances and Netscape 6. But while Gecko may take AOL into the kitchen, Netscape 6 won't be browsing AOL just yet.
Sporting a Netscape jacket, AOL Chair Steve Case announced Wednesday the beta release of Netscape 6 and three Gateway Internet appliances: a PC-like countertop unit; a flexible, flat-panel device with a wireless keyboard; and a wireless Internet pad. You can download Netscape 6 now, but you can't buy the Instant AOL appliances until much later this year.
Just days after Microsoft was ruled to have acted illegally in squeezing Netscape out of the browser war, the announcements mark the relaunch of Netscape with an AOL flavor.
"The Netscape magic is back," Case says. "Powered by Gecko technology, Netscape 6 provides new speed, convenience, and customization."
AOL's influence on Netscape 6
A Netscape 6 demonstration and PC World's evaluation both find a lean and fast browser with communications features that show AOL's influence. The most prominent, My Sidebar, keeps your favorite sites and applications accessible as your surf.
My Sidebar can sit abreast of the browser or as a stand-alone client, says Chris Saito, Netscape's senior director of product marketing. It includes tab links to sites as well as to Netscape Instant Messenger. Netscape's chat service is compatible with the popular AOL Instant Messenger, Saito notes. "You can register through Netscape or use your AIM ID."
But Netscape Instant Messenger isn't just a rebranding of AIM. "We've built it on top of Gecko," Saito says. It's one of the Web site-based functions you can access through a tab.
Netscape 6 supports multiple e-mail accounts, including Netscape mail, POP3, and IMAP accounts, as well as AOL Mail.
AOL embraces Gecko, Linux
AOL is using Netscape 6's debut to tout its Gecko-powered Instant AOL appliances, including the three Gateway devices and AOL TV, due this summer. But Netscape 6 won't be the browser in the appliances or in the online service.
AOL plans to keep the brands separate, Saito says. "You won't see an AOL product with a big Netscape logo." Also, AOL still has a deal with Microsoft: The AOL client sits on the Windows desktop, and AOL's default browser is Internet Explorer.
"Microsoft requires us to carry Internet Explorer as part of that contract," says Barry Schuler, president of AOL interactive services. AOL would use Netscape 6 if it could, Schuler says.
Until then, AOL will use Netscape's Gecko engine to put browsers and custom versions of AOL on non-PC devices.
Using Linux keeps the price point low, Saito says. Thanks to Gecko's flexibility, AOL can develop Linux applications that offer one-button access to AOL services.
Similarly, Microsoft is working with Compaq and others to develop MSN appliances that run Windows CE.
Someday, Gecko may appear many more places.
"Ultimately, we will have a [Gecko-driven wireless application protocol] browser," says Barry Shuler, president of AOL Interactive services. In the interim, Netscape and AOL are developing ways to put Gecko browsers on high-resolution display appliances.
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