The for-preview browser, which works only in Windows, was delayed several weeks from an expected mid-February launch due to last-minute problems, but is now available for download.
Its most unusual characteristic is a dual rendering mode, for while Netscape 8 is built on the Firefox browser's framework, it can also use Internet Explorer's rendering engine, which is included within Windows, to display pages.
Like Firefox, which has made hay by posing as an alternative to the vulnerability-plagued Internet Explorer, Netscape 8 offers several security-centric features, including one intended to deflect phishing attacks, said Netscape. A blacklist/whitelist mechanism, dubbed "Trust List," warns users of suspicious or insecure sites before they're pulled up on the browser.
The beta, admitted Netscape, is buggy. "There are known intermittent crashes that can occur for various reasons," said Netscape in its posted release notes. The beta also lacks the recent security fixes applied to Firefox by its 1.0.1 version, but promised to integrate them at some point.
Netscape, which ruled the browser roost in the mid-1990s with as much as 80 percent of the market, lost its spot to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which according to the most recent data, is now used by between 87 and 90 percent of the world's surfers.
Firefox is the leading rival for IE, with between 5.7 and 8.5 percent of the business.
Netscape is a division of America Online, which purchased the once-major company in 1998 for the whopping sum on $4.2 billion.