Netscape Communications, or the "smallest province in the AOL empire," as some like to derisively call it, will finally unveil its eagerly awaited browser suite, Netscape 6, Wednesday. Once the darling of the Internet world, Netscape has fallen from favor recently as numerous delays in producing a next-generation browser forced the company to cancel its 5.0 product and hold out for the architecturally superior Netscape 6, which was built with the participation of the open source community. But Netscape 6 has been two years in the making, an eon in Internet time, and for the company that once defined a rapid release cycle that kept Microsoft on its toes, this product might have do or die implications.

Netscape 6, company officials say, will focus on size, speed, and search capabilities. And an early sneak peak at the product, provided by BetaNews (http://www.betanews.com) bears this out. Inspired by the success of Microsoft's componentized Internet Explorer, Netscape 6 will allow users to download any of its components separately if desired, keeping the size small. So if users simply want the email component, for example, that will finally be possible with Netscape 6 (and this release finally adds support for multiple POP accounts, a first for Netscape). Built from the ground up as a new product, Netscape 6 includes browser, email, instant messaging, Internet phone, and HTML composing components.

Of course, the problem for Netscape is one of acceptance. Once the clear market leader, Netscape's share of the Web browser market has fallen dramatically in recent days as IE asserts its dominance. But Netscape has strong support in the burgeoning Linux market, which may help since its usage on the prevalent desktop platforms--Windows and the Mac--has shown no sign of rising in the last three years