As Internet stocks have shot through the roof in recent months, one Web name - Netscape Communications Corp. - has been left behind.

But investors are now starting to buy shares of Netscape as they realize that the company's Netcenter Web site puts it in the same business as Yahoo! Inc., Excite Inc. and Lycos Inc.As the default start page for users of Netscape's Navigator browser, Netcenter gets a massive amount of Web traffic - making it one of the most valuable properties on the Internet.

So as Netscape struggles to recover from Microsoft Corp.'s frontal assault on it in the browser market, the company is trying to build up Netcenter as a major Internet gateway for consumers.

"It is changing from a company that had been viewed as a failed competitor to Microsoft to a company in the same business as Yahoo," said Jeff Matthews, portfolio manager at Ram Partners. "This company has an extremely valuable asset."

Netscape is currently deep in negotiations with all of the leading search engines to provide content and services for the re-designed site.

Some speculate that Netscape could make just one of the leading search engines the exclusive Web directory service on the Net Search button, which is located on Netcenter and on the tool bar on the top of its Navigator browser. The Net Search page currently features all of the search engines.

But Jennifer Bailey, Netscape's Web site vice president, said the company believes users need a choice of search services.

Others have speculated that Netscape could reach an agreement that would make one of the search engines or America Online Inc. exclusively responsible for all of the programming on Net-center.

But BT Alex. Brown analyst Mary McCaffrey said she believes the company will continue to have relationships with the other Inter-net guides.

Bailey said Netscape is discussing partnering with some of the search engines and big media companies to build services or provide programming for the site.

She said that as Netscape tries to transform its highly trafficked Netcenter into a major Internet gateway, the company needs to add more features that will appeal to consumers. The site is currently very focused on the business market, she noted.

Despite the influx of default traffic from Navigator, Netscape until recently did "very little to hold the attention or interest of mainstream consumers coming to Netscape.com," agreed Volpe Brown Whelan analyst Derek Brown.

The company instead "focused on serving its technology-savvy clients ... with product-related news and information, downloads and software plug-ins," he said.

Netscape, therefore, hopes to move to more of a channels-oriented format - which would offer channels organized by topic - on the site. It also plans to add more services that appeal to consumers and it is considering adding features such as a Web-based e-mail service and personalization to Netcenter.

Bailey noted that the company already has deals with Yahoo! Inc. to offer the Netscape Guide by Yahoo! and with America On-line to offer AOL's Instant Messenger Service.

Netscape also is going through the annual process of renegotiating the terms of the agreements under which it directs traffic to the search engines through the Net Search button.

The company currently has premiere relationships to send traffic to the four leading search engines - Yahoo! Inc., Excite Inc., Lycos Inc. and Infoseek Corp.

Netscape also sends traffic to Excite's Web Crawler brand; AOL NetFind, which is powered by Excite technology; HotBot; LookSmart; and CNET Inc.'s Snap! All five of the latter, however, have less prominent placement.

The major search engines each paid an average of $5 million for about 20 percent of Netscape's search traffic for the 1996-97 program, although each of the companies paid different fees for different amounts of traffic.