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Free at last

Netscape Communications Corp. (http://home.netscape.com) is counting on an offer of free browsers to hold onto its leading share of the browser market, providing a base to drive what will be its two key revenue sources, the ad-supported Netcenter service and business Internet software. After mulling the idea for months, Netscape Jan. 22 began offering Communicator and Navigator browsers free to take on Microsoft Corp., which has offered Internet Explorer free since 1995. Netscape, laboring to get past recent losses and layoffs, is pushing free browsers in a sweepstakes promotion that will include prizes from The Sabre Group's Travelocity and GoGoWorldwide Vacations. It is also pursuing deals with PC makers and Internet service providers to distribute the browsers. Partners are free to distribute customized versions, though if they are incompatible with the core product it could mean their browsers can't carry the Netscape brand.

Prodigy joins forces

with Excite

Prodigy Services Corp. and Excite are consolidating forces to be the default home page for Web users. Search engine Excite will serve as the start page for Prodigy Internet subscribers and provide customized co-branded versions of its content throughout Prodigy. The co-branded service will be available in April.

RCN Corp. buys Erol's

and UltraNet

RCN Corp. (www.rcn.com) has agreed to buy Erol's Internet and UltraNet Communications for a combined $110.5 million in cash and RCN stock. By acquiring Erol's and UltraNet, RCN gains 325,000 Internet subscribers, which it said makes it the largest regional ISP in the Northeast.

NBC takes minority stake in Mining Co.

NBC will be using Mining Co.'s GuideSites services for the NBC Interactive Neighborhood, a network of NBC-owned and affiliated sites. NBC also announced it was taking an undisclosed minority stake in General Internet, Mining Co.'s parent company. Terms of the deal were not available.

In other news

Netscape Communications Corp. and The Sabre Group today launch Netcenter Travel by Travelocity, a co-branded service on Netscape Netcenter. The service will offer online air, hotel and car bookings. . . . Godiva Chocolatier is sponsoring the free electronic greetings area of Greet Street (www.greetst.com) in a promotion being launched today and running through Valentine's Day. . . . Fox News Online (www.foxnews.com) began offering free, real-time stock quotes last week through a partnership with Thomson Investors Network, a division of Thomson Financial Services. . . . PersonaLogic named Rob Raczkowski, former VP at New York new media company AdOne, chief operating officer. . . . Land's End promoted David T. Zentmyer from VP-corporate sales to the new position of VP-managing director, Internet.

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