AOL borrows from FireFox, IE for Netscape 8.0

AOL Canada is working on a localized version of its most recent browser Netscape 8 in an effort to draw more Canadian users.

The browser, due for launch next month, will feature Canadian content like news feeds, financial information, phone

listings and maps. It will also use Canadian nomenclature for browser-based applications that require address or dollar input. “Postal codes” rather than “zip codes” will be a default setting, for example.

The first version of the Canadian browser will be targeted to Anglophones, while a French version will follow at a later date, said Steven Koles, general manager of Netscape and enhanced services for AOL Canada.

According to the most recent rankings available from research firm Janco Associates Inc., Netscape accounts for less than one per cent of the overall browser market. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still dominates with about 83 per cent and Firefox has increased its market share to just over 10 per cent.

Netscape 8 is based on Firefox 1.0.4 which uses a Gecko engine. It also supports IE’s browser engine and ActiveX, a set of Microsoft technologies used to share information between different applications.

Koles said AOL is aiming for a “best of both worlds” approach to the browser market by including support for two dominant players.

“What we’ve learned is, both have their place in the marketplace,” said Koles. “We recognize that there are a number of sites that do program in ActiveX, that do require rendering to be done in an Explorer-type engine. Having both at our disposal, we think gives our users the maximum amount of flexibility.”

Netscape also uses some of the features popularized by the Firefox browser like tabbed browsing.

AOL won’t have much difficulty differentiating itself from Microsoft, said Ray Valdes, analyst at the Gartner Group. “You just have to say you’re not Internet Explorer. There’s a certain percentage of people who are looking for an alternative.”

But Firefox has already set itself apart from IE, much of its appeal stemming from its simplicity. “People who want something that’s not IE generally want something that’s simpler and lighter-weight and fast,” said Valdes.

The added bells and whistles in Netscape 8, along with a dual support mode may actually be a hindrance for some users, he added, noting that if people want to use an IE engine, they only have to click on the IE icon already on their desktop.

Browsers are not intrinsically a revenue generator anymore, said JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox. When Microsoft started to bundle IE with its Windows operating system, the revenue model for browser companies had to change.

The reason development on browsers has stepped up in recent years is the rise of paid search, he said. While Firefox “certainly churned up a lot of response from other folks that have been in the market for a while,” paid search is a revenue model that has encouraged Netscape and Microsoft to refresh their browser businesses.

“We’re a media company,” said Koles, “and where we make money is in media sales and things like paid-for search. That is definitely part of the business model in going to market with a new browser.”

AOL will be able to take advantage of its conglomerate status and offer Canadian Netscape users cross-promotions with other companies in the AOL empire. Koles wouldn’t specify, but said that AOL “will be working through a variety of Web properties.”

AOL may be able to generate local interest through its “Canadianized” browser, said Wilcox, and be able to appeal to Canadian users and Canadian businesses who may be interested in marketing or promotional opportunities. French Canadians in particular may be drawn to localized content.

“You can get language packs (for other browsers) but they’re not specifically for the Canadian market. If AOL does it right, it will be truly Canadian,” he said.

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