AOL has released the first public test version of Netscape 8, a new web browser with features designed to protect users against online scams and malicious code.

The beta release was originally scheduled for mid-February, but was delayed to fix some last-minute bugs. A preview version of the browser has been available to a select group of testers since late November. The Netscape 8 beta version differs significantly from that preview.

The new Netscape beta can be downloaded here .

With the release of Netscape 8 beta, AOL is taking aim at Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer web browser, which has been the subject of many security vulnerabilities. Also, AOL is looking to piggyback on the popularity of Firefox, the open source Web browser that was released in November and has since been downloaded about 27 million times.

The Netscape 8 browser includes features that are meant to protect users while surfing the web. For example, the browser adjusts settings based on a list of known malicious websites to protect users from phishing scams. Also, trusted websites are displayed with fewer restrictions and use the IE rendering engine for maximum compatibility.

Netscape 8 is based on Firefox and uses that browser's rendering engine by default, but also supports the IE browser engine. The Netscape browser doesn't include the IE engine but uses the engine in Windows. As a result, the Netscape 8 browser only works on Windows computers.