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HP to Include AOL's Netscape on Its PCs

October 04, 2005|From Dow Jones/Associate Press

NEW YORK — America Online has inked a deal to distribute its Netscape Web browser with Hewlett-Packard Co. personal computers sold in the United States and Canada starting early next year.

It is the first PC distribution deal for an alternative browser since Microsoft Corp. won the "browser wars" of the late 1990s.

Under the agreement, Netscape will be preinstalled on all new HP and Compaq brand consumer PCs. New computer owners will be able to choose Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Netscape as their default browser. They also will be able to access the program from the Start menu and an icon on the desktop. AOL declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

The easy access to PC desktops gives a helping hand to Netscape, which lost its place as the dominant Internet browser after Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer with its near-ubiquitous Windows operating system, which is preloaded onto PCs. AOL, which bought Netscape in 1999, sued Microsoft over anti-competitive practices. Microsoft settled for $750 million in May 2003 after it was found guilty of violating federal antitrust laws.

"There's a lot of movement in the browser area now, and consumers are clearly looking for a choice," AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said. "We look forward to talking to other PC manufacturers about offering consumers a similar choice."

AOL released Netscape 8.0 in May, basing it on the more secure software code of the open-source Firefox browser in an effort to capitalize on frustration over security flaws in Internet Explorer that had become avenues for spyware and other malicious programs to infiltrate PCs.

Internet Explorer's security problems drove millions of consumers to Firefox this year, although Explorer remains by far the dominant browser.

To address the major stumbling block facing Firefox -- the fact that many Web pages are built for viewing only through Internet Explorer -- Netscape automatically switches to Explorer when a user visits a site that's known to be safe. As part of AOL's settlement with Microsoft, the software giant let AOL license Internet Explorer royalty-free for seven years.

Netscape also blocks access to thousands of sites that are known or suspected to be part of "phishing" identity-theft scams or that expose computers to viruses and spyware.

"We've been very pleased with the adoption of the browser," AOL's Weinstein said.

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