Internet 'Pushes' Its Way Into TV's Domain

Push. If you haven't experienced it in cyberspace, the makers of the leading Internet browsers are happy to oblige. Their not-yet completed software will push you as far as you let it. Netscape Communications and Microsoft are using push technology to make the Internet more TV-like.

Push is a way of delivering data. It works on a simple premise: Companies move their Web pages to you rather than waiting for you to visit them. It's like watching TV rather than running to the video store to rent a movie. The difference is that Web watchers can be much more selective about what they see.

PointCast Network popularized the use of push technology with a screen saver that automatically downloads news, stock quotes, and ads. You can customize the news you get, but not the ads.

The new Netscape and Microsoft browsers take the push concept further with something called Web "channels."

Users will be able to subscribe to channels, select what information they want from them, and how often they will be updated. You'll be able to download news from ABC or entertainment from Disney.

So far, though, these technologies are still in the testing phase and the preview versions run slowly if at all.

The company furthest along is Netscape. It has already released its new browser, repackaged with a suite of software, called Communicator 4.0. The program adds several features, including a more sophisticated interface, a better mail program and reader for viewing newsgroups. There are also rudimentary tools for creating Web pages and conferencing features for users hooked up to a corporate network.

Two especially useful features for the home computer user: an easier way to return to favorite Web sites (by dragging and dropping electronic links) and a spell-checker for e-mail. Now, your electronic messages will be as error-free as your spell-checked letters.

Some observers predict browser technology will some day become the de facto operating system, replacing Windows and the Macintosh interface. If it does, it will be because browsers continue evolving the way Communicator has.

You can download a free trial edition of Netscape Communicator by clicking on one of the many upgrade buttons on sites around the Internet or by going directly to the company's home page (home.netscape. com). When you are ready to buy the software, the standard edition costs $59; a professional version, targeted for corporate networks, costs $79.

Netscape's push technology, called Netcaster, is still not ready for prime time. Test versions show promise - more than 700 channels are in the works - but the system is slow to operate and the interface is not easy to navigate.

As usual, Microsoft is aggressively pushing along similar lines. The company says it will ship the final version of its browser suite, Explorer 4.0, by summer's end (translated, that means October). A Macintosh version should be out 30 to 90 days later. You can try downloading a test version of the software by going to Microsoft's Internet Explorer site (home. microsoft.com).

But the downloading process is complex and so slow you may be tempted to give up.

Explorer 4.0 promises to have many of the same features as Communicator: a spell checker, Web-page tools, and channels technology. It will have two big advantages over Communicator. It can be integrated into the Windows operating system, and it's free.

Microsoft intends to merge Explorer with the next version of Windows. So everyone with a new Windows-based computer can use Explorer - not only to search the Internet, but also to search their hard drive.

It's not clear whether Microsoft's or Netscape's push technology will win. But the battle to make the Internet more TV-like promises to be vigorous.

* Send comments to lbelsie@ix.netcom.com or visit my "In Cyberspace" forum at www.csmonitor.com

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