Much like the Star Wars movies, the browser wars have returned for a whole new era of battle.

This was illustrated yesterday by the release of Netscape's Netscape 7.0 preview browser.

And Netscape's new browser appears armed for market share warfare, boasting features that have proven popular with open-source browser users, such as tabbed browsing, as well as the must-have commercial offerings like radio.

The Preview Release of Netscape 7.0 comes hot on the heels of news that the Mozilla open-source browser is in beta testing and soon due for final release. At the same time, Netscape's arch rival, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, is busy eating up market share.

Netscape, a subsidiary of internet and media powerhouse AOL Time Warner, has long been pitted against Microsoft in the browser race. What's more, Microsoft's latest version of Internet Explorer, IE6, has gained over 30 percent of the market since it was released in the second half of last year, compared to Netscape's paltry seven percent of the market, according to a March 2002 study by Internet research firm WebSideStory.

Netscape may be hoping to turn the tide with its latest offering, which boasts new features such as Click-to-Search, which allows users to highlight a word or phrase with their mouse and click 'Web Search' to receive a separate browser window of search results.

But the new feature that perhaps stands out the most is tabbed browsing, which allows users to keep track of a number of sites or pages as tabbed pages in a single browser window.

Tabbed browsing has proved to be a popular feature with Mozilla beta users, which may be how Netscape came about implementing it in the 7.0 version.

The Mozilla open-source browser project was initiated by Netscape, and the company uses the same browser engine as Mozilla, called Gecko. Netscape views and uses a large amount of code coming out of the open source project.

Until last June, AOL proper used IE as its default browser, but the company has recently said that it is testing a Gecko-powered browser for the service. It remains to be seen if positive feedback regarding the new Netscape browser sways AOL to make the switch.

While Netscape is signalling that it has yet to raise the white flag in the browser war, it will be up to users to determine if preview 7.0 is the right weapon of choice.