This is not your big brother's Netscape browser.
America Online introduced the preview version of its sleeker, hipper Netscape 6 last week at the annual Internet World Trade Show in Los Angeles.
AOL says the slimmer browser is part of its "AOL Anywhere" strategy that lets members access the Internet from any device. The program is about half the size of earlier versions and works better with digital set-top television boxes and Web-enabled cell phones.
The browser can be downloaded free at the Netscape Web site (www.netscape.com). It includes a new technology called sidebar, which Netscape describes as "a skinny Web page" users can customize so it will deliver information tailored to their needs.
It will continuously deliver news, stock quotes, weather, buddy lists and other news, even when the main browser window is closed.
The new Netscape may become a point of contention in the penalty stage of the Microsoft antitrust case. AOL Chief Executive Steve Case says the company wants to make Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator the default browser in the service as soon as possible. The company currently uses the Explorer browser by Microsoft, but that contract runs out at the end of 2000. AOL now owns Netscape.
One of the key findings during the trial was that Microsoft illegally attempted to monopolize the Web browser market. Experts believe the addition of AOL's customers could revitalize Netscape's market share.
Legal issues aside, Jupiter Communications Web technology analyst Lydia Loizides said she's impressed with Netscape 6's design.
"It is different," she said, "and it's much different from Communicator [Netscape's current browser product]. They have gone for a streamlined, modular and, I guess, you could call it a futuristic look."
She said the most interesting aspect of the new browser was the sidebar function.
"It's kind of like an organizer on your desktop -- it's like an intelligent bookmark," she said.
"You're going to see more stuff like this as you get technology that lets you have a window you can load up from the server," says Tom Andrus, vice president of product management for the EarthLink Network.
EarthLink already has a sidebarlike feature with its 5.0 software. "Basically what we did was try and integrate it with our personal start page and have that be able to stay with you while you travel the Web," he said.
Jupiter's Loizides says developers may take advantage of the new sidebar technology and build some interesting products just for Netscape 6.
"Wait six months," she says. "You'll see applications that are designed just for the Netscape browser because of the open standard that makes it a dream come true for developers, and you'll see exclusives."