AOL Replaces IE with Netscape in New Beta

After almost a year of delays, AOL has taken the much anticipated first step to make Netscape's Gecko the default browsing engine in its client, a move that could breathe new life into the now stagnant browser war. As first revealed by BetaNews, AOL began developing the browser agnostic technology dubbed Komodo last year after an agreement with Microsoft sanctioning the use of Internet Explorer expired. The company has been testing Komodo with its CompuServe client since that time, but only this week made the switch in a test version of AOL, dubbed "Talon."

"The software used in this test is based on the most recent version of AOL 7.0 with Netscape Gecko as its internal browser," AOL beta coordinators wrote in an e-mail to testers. "Netscape Gecko is an embeddable browser designed to support open Internet standards, and is used for products like Netscape 6.2 and Instant AOL. This Beta tests the functionality of the AOL 7.0 software with Netscape Gecko."

AOL had originally planned to implement Komodo into AOL 7.0, which debuted last October, but encountered stability problems when used with Gecko. Internal documents viewed by BetaNews at the time stated "Komodo has not had a successful build for several weeks," citing "weeks of backlogged bugs and little to no QA."

Switching to Gecko has proved an enormous task for the media giant. Not only must AOL ensure compatibility with its own software that is heavily based on HTML-derived forms, but it also must be sure customers will have a similar browsing experience using the new engine - or face a multitude of support complaints.

According to internal plans viewed by BetaNews, AOL began a massive effort to promote Gecko compatibility in May of last year. "AOL must work to ensure the member experience for browsing is not impacted by the browser that members are using. AOLTW/CS partner content and the top most visited web sites by AOL, Inc. members (including Netcenter members) must be evangelized to use open standards in their publishing of content," one document read. "Internet Services will work with Account Services to notify Partners of the Komodo project, and ask Partners to test websites for compatibility."

If Talon is successful, AOL is likely to include Gecko as the default browser in AOL 8.0, due this fall. Such a move would give Netscape a much needed boost, with the browser currently holding less than 10 percent market share. The opportunity may also allow AOL to finally to cut strenuous ties with Redmond that have resulted from an ongoing battle between the companies. In December, Netscape filed suit against Microsoft for anticompetitive practices that caused irreversible damage to its business.

But Microsoft seems unconcerned that AOL might give IE the boot. Microsoft product manager Jim Cullinan told BetaNews last year, "AOL can use any browser technology they want in their client." After rumors surfaced last summer stating Netscape would focus more on services than its browser, Cullinan remarked, "Maybe it is because the Netscape technology sucks, at least that is what the reviews have said."

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