SAN JOSE, Calif. - For months, Internet rivals Netscape and Microsoft boasted about the technical advances they were making to their programs for finding information on the World Wide Web.
But when the new versions came out, they played down arcane details. Instead, they appealed to consumers, lauding their programs' free access to multimedia news, sports and entertainment on the Internet.
Analysts said neither Netscape's Navigator 3.0, introduced Monday, nor Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0, unveiled last week, was clearly better than the other.
"Neither one has come up with an edge the other hasn't thought of" said Richard Shaffer, an analyst with Technologic Partners in New York. He called the updated browsers's new features "mostly people trying to outmarket each other."
Netscape and Microsoft's moves resemble the rivalry between online service providers like America Online and CompuServe, which offer customers electronic incarnations of popular newspapers and magazines as well as financial and other information.
For instance, people who use the revised Netscape browser can read the New York Times or tap into Sony Music for free for the rest of the year while Microsoft's customers can get the online Wall Street Journal at no charge for the same period.
Browser software has become a key battleground in the software industry. The programs influence the type of program, called "server" software, purchased by companies and individuals wishing to publish information online.
Netscape's Navigator is used by about 80 percent of the people who browse the Web. Its server programs take advantage of features in the browser.
Microsoft has a similar huge share of the market for PC operating systems. But, as more people create data for Internet distribution, it worries that Netscape's dominance in that area might erode its influence on the overall industry.
Last week, Microsoft said its Internet Explorer 3.0 would also include free access to The Wall Street Journal's Interactive Edition, ESPN's SportsZone Web site, Discount Warehouse computer retailer and a few other popular Web pages.
Netscape lined up more than two dozen producers of Web information - including The New York Times, Charles Schwab, Sony Music, and SportsLine USA - to provide their information free to users of the new Navigator browser.
It went a step further by setting up a method for that information to be automatically delivered into a person's electronic mail, based on the person's desires.
Microsoft is offering the new version of its browser free. Netscape lets users download it from the Internet but suggests they pay $49. Most people who have used previous versions of Netscape Navigator haven't paid for it, though.
Microsoft's browser works only with PCs that are run by Microsoft's Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems. Netscape's works with those kinds of computers as well as those run by the older Windows 3.1 product, Apple's Macintosh machines and about a dozen other kinds of operating programs.
"Right now ... with Netscape's daunting share, all Microsoft can do is keep up and become part of the landscape," said Stan Dolberg, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
Kathy Hale, analyst with Dataquest, said Microsoft could win a bigger share of the browser market in a couple of years by applying lots of money.
"What's going to be more of a deciding factor is when Release 4 of Internet Explorer comes out ... next year, when Microsoft will be first in beginning to embed the browser into their operating system," Ms. Hale said.
Dataquest's parent company, Gartner Group, is one of the companies that has arranged to provide some of its Web-distributed research for free to Netscape users.
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