CUPERTINO, Calif. (AP) _ America Online CEO Steve Case, acknowledging that headhunters are circling around Netscape's headquarters, offered all 2,300 employees an extra month's pay as a bonus if they stick around until the merger is complete.

AOL Inc.' s $4.3 billion takeover of Netscape Communications Corp., and a separate deal with Sun Microsystems, will be a good thing for Netscape employees, officials of all three companies said at a meeting with the workers on Monday.

``The most important thing ... for us is all you folks, and the contributions you have made,'' Case said. ``We also recognize there are headhunters out there.''

Case assured his future employees that after the merger is completed next spring, stock options will remain valuable, their sabbatical program will remain in place and their corporate culture will remain intact.

``Maybe you joined the company because it was a cool company,'' he said. ``We are not changing any of that. We want to run this as an independent culture.''

Case's talk, and speeches by Jim Barksdale of Netscape and Scott McNealy of Sun were interrupted several times by cheers from the audience.

McNealy said the companies will work hard to keep customers happy, fend off Silicon Valley rivals trying to lure away Netscape employees, and keep the egos of engineers at Sun and Netscape in check as they learn to collaborate.

McNealy drew cheers as he read a list of the ``Top 10 reasons Netscape should have acquired AOL.'' The top reason, McNealy said, was that Barksdale, who hails from Mississippi, would force AOL to change its familiar greeting to ``Y'all got mail.''