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Netscape turns up the heat in the Web browser war


Netscape Communications released its new-and-improved Web browser this week -- right on the heels of reports saying its market share continues to erode.

Netscape released a preview edition of Communicator 4.5 this week, coupling the new browser with an aggressive marketing campaign that we should be seeing in action soon.

The new Web browser isn't a total revamp of previous versions of Communicator. What they did was to tune and tweak it -- and in my opinion, its what the earlier versions of Communicator should have been.

The move is an attempt to hold onto the company's dominance as the most widely used Web browser.

The upcoming $10 million campaign will distribute 125 million copies of the new Web browser. Netscape is giving Communicator 4.5 away at no charge, a practice it put in place in January.

Communicator 4.5's new features provide more closer linkage between the Web browser and the company's Netcenter Web site. Analysts say this is a move to attract more users to both the Communicator Web browser as well as build business at its Netcenter site.

The browser's new features is to simplify using the Internet, according to Netscape officials.

Communicator 4.5 includes a new "What's Related" button that features a pull-down menu, listing Web sites similar to the one the user is currently viewing.

The feature is a service Netscape has licensed from Alexa Internet -- a company that offers its own standalone browser "helper" to offer links to related Web sites.

The browser offers a number of other new features, including:

Smart Browsing. A user can type in a name into the Web browser's location bar instead of a Web site address. If the browser recognizes the name, it takes you to the Web site. If not, it conducts a search via the Netcenter site and offers a list of suggested sites.

E-mail address and bookmarks. Communicator will soon allow you to store e-mail address books and bookmarks on the Netcenter site. For Web surfers who operate from a variety of computers and locations, this feature gives you access to your addresses and bookmarks from any Web-connected PC.

The move by Netscape is intended to add value to their Web site and browser; in effect, its a move to create another "Web portal," a starting point for users' Web surfing.

The Communicator 4.5 beta is available free of charge to download from Netscape's Web site at http://home.netscape.com.

APPLE WOWS WALL STREET. After reporting better-than-expected third-quarter company earnings this week, Apple Computers' stock soared to a 52-week high, jumping more than 10 percent.

With earnings well above those predicted by Wall Street analysts, investors took note of the company's apparent shift in momentum.

With co-founder Steve Jobs as chief executive, Apple has sliced its losses, pushing its new Pentium-killer G3 Macintosh line and Powerbook notebook computers, and is set to rollout its iMac line of consumer Macintoshes in less than a month.

And the company is on track for a profitable fourth quarter, analysts are already predicting.

For information about Apple Computers, visit their Web site at www.apple.com.

E-CASH COMING. The money raised by the Federal Communications Commission's long-distance phone surcharges should be trickling to schools and libraries this fall, according to Ira Fishman, chairman of the Schools and Libraries Corp.

The SLC was created by the FCC to handle the revenues brought in by a long-distance usage tax levied after passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

The surcharge, also referred to as the e-rate tax, has created substantial controversy, even before any of the money -- destined to help wire schools and libraries to the Internet -- was ever spent.

The FCC's move was taxation without representation, critics say, because Congress never approved or voted on the fee. Furthermore, they say the FCC's move to establish the tax on long-distance carriers was an overly broad interpretation of language the bill contained.

The fee won't be rescinded once schools are wired. Critics charge the requests to the SLC have included requests for new carpet and asbestos abatement.

According to the FCC, the funds can only be used to pay for portions of Internet services and internal connections within buildings -- not for computers, renovations, teacher training or other items.

The SLC to date has received more than 30,000 requests from schools and -libraries.

The amount of discount available for Internet services and equipment for schools is being directly linked to the percentage of children who qualify for the national school lunch program. The higher the percentage of students in the lunch program, the greater the discount available to the schools.

The FCC temporarily curtailed the e-rate program in June when long-distance carriers threatened to impose surcharges on customers to pay the tax.

The FCC recently announced that it was scaling back the amount of money by half to $1.275 billion for 1998.

For more information, visit the SLC's Web site at www.slcfund.org, or www.eratehotline.org.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK. Do you support paying higher long-distance rates to help wire our schools and libraries -- even in light of statistics showing that 80 percent of schools already have Internet access? Send me your thoughts at the e-mail address below.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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