Netscape browser boosts road warrior support

Government systems administrators and frequent travelers will find much to like in Netscape Communications Corp.'s recently updated World Wide Web browsing suite, Communicator 4.5. Among other upgrades, the new version, which was released Oct. 19, features improved message management and enhanced support for roaming users.

We tested Version 4.5 and found its new features well-suited for large organizations such as government agencies. Coupled with broad operating system support and advanced cryptography, these features give Communicator 4.5 a slight edge over competing products, such as Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer, for government purposes.

Communicator 4.5 consists of the Messenger e-mail client, Navigator Web browser, a group calendar application and a Web page composer. It is available free for download from Netscape's Web site—— or via agencywide licensing agreements, such as those held by the Defense and Treasury departments, the U.S. Postal Service and the General Services Administration. (The licensing agreements provide for centralized agency Web sites that may be quicker and easier to use for downloading the software than the one offered by Netscape.)

Systems administrators will be most interested in Communicator 4.5's enhanced support for two key messaging protocols: Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) 4 and the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).

Previous versions of Communicator offered basic support for IMAP, a protocol that allows messages to be retained on the message server instead of automatically downloaded to the local machine upon connection. This protocol lets users manage their message stores from multiple computers, which is not possible with simpler messaging protocols such as Post Office Protocol 3 or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol.

The enhanced capabilities of IMAP supported in Communicator 4.5 offer users added flexibility in managing the message store. Among the most useful new features are the storage of sent messages on the server, selective download of attachments and faster header downloads.

Netscape Messenger's IMAP 4 support means you can designate certain message folders as shared so that another user can access them. You also can selectively synchronize message folders between your client machine and the server. And the tracking of message status now is performed on the server instead of the client. That means when you mark a message as read or forwarded on one client machine and then access your mailbox using another machine, the tag will show up. So if you are traveling and you access your message store from a notebook instead of your desktop, you will be able to have all the information you need about your messages.

Communicator 4.5 also delivers enhanced support for LDAP, the emerging standard data format for address book and directory information. This means you can access multiple LDAP directories and use stronger search tools to find users in those directories. Messenger, for example, offers a new pop-up dialog box for selecting names if more than one matches your entry. And the program's search tools include phonetic searches and partial string searches. Users also can restrict searches to specified LDAP data fields, such as the addressee's organization or address.

The Navigator Web browser offers some nifty features that will be new to users who did not upgrade to Version 4.06. Specifically, the browser now includes a What's Related button on the toolbar that, when clicked, will display a list of Web sites topically related to the page you have open. If, for example, you are exploring the site of a Defense contractor and click on What's Related, you will receive a list of Defense-related links.

Another feature of Navigator's new SmartBrowsing tools is the use of Internet keywords in the Go To line. Instead of typing the exact Uniform Resource Locator, all you need to do is type in a descriptive keyword, and chances are you'll be transported to the appropriate Web site. For example, you can type in Southwest Airlines, and the browser will figure out the URL and call up the appropriate home page.

Communicator 4.5 also brings improved integration with Netscape's NetCenter portal, which allows users to create custom pages with special news and information updated regularly. Ultimately, Netscape envisions that large organizations, such as government agencies, will use NetCenter to provide information from their own intranets.

But the big attraction to most departmental users— and the product's primary edge over Microsoft's Internet Explorer— is Communicator's enhanced support for IMAP 4 and LDAP.

"There are a lot of enterprise-oriented enhancements in the area of messaging and collaboration that will be very useful for federal agencies," said John Menkart, director of federal sales at Netscape. "The IMAP and LDAP support has been enhanced to support centralized messaging. The administrative features...allow end users to customize the client environment."

Military use of Communicator 4.5 is expected to be high because the version will be incorporated into several standard DOD systems, including the Defense Information Infrastructure's Common Operating Environment, the Global Transportation Network, the Global Combat Support System and the Global Command and Control System.


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