Review: Web users will welcome new-look Netscape

After a respectable period of cease-fire, Netscape Communications Corp.

has sent off another salvo in the browser war. With Netscape 6, the newly

reorganized company is taking a direct shot at reclaiming its former glory

as the preferred interface to the World Wide Web.

In my look at the beta code, I found that the most noticeable change

is the browser's new design. Netscape has redesigned all of the standard

elements, such as scroll bars, file menus and dialog boxes that most programmers

usually let the Windows interface provide. The result is that Netscape 6

looks more like a Linux application than a Windows application. Also, the

application is about two-thirds the size of previous versions, another result

of better design.

A much simpler navigation bar makes more room for browsing than previous

versions, although Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer offers even a little

more viewing space. Large icons depict the important things, such as back,

forward, reload and stop. Gone are all the other buttons, demonstrating

the cleaner look of good design.

Another unmistakable design change is the addition of the My Sidebar

window, which I have mixed feelings about. It looks like a sort of clearinghouse

for a mishmash of features and marketing junk. For example, one of the tabs

is the Buddy List, which shows you which of your friends are online so that

you can send them instant messages. Another tab allows you to keep track

the stocks you own (or wish you owned). There also is a search tab and a

What's Related tab that finds other pages related to the one you are viewing.

At first I found this tab system annoying, taking up valuable real estate.

But after playing with it for a few minutes and noticing that many of the

tabs worked off each other and the browsing windows, I saw how much more

efficient my time online was, and I had to give it the nod.

Most importantly, each tab can be configured to display the information

or features you like. And if you still don't go for it, you can press a

button and the whole thing flies off the left side of the monitor into the

ether.

Technically, the big thing about the latest release is called Gecko.

It's a code name for the new architecture whose foundation is a set of XPCOM

modules. Because XPCOM is a cross-platform implementation of the Common

Object Model (COM), developers can extend the browser's core capabilities

by adding their own XPCOM components using JavaScript.

Netscape promises that the new Gecko architecture is much faster than

current technologies, but testing it was not possible because the caching

system was not available in the beta version I looked at.

And because Gecko was developed as an open-source project, it offers

full support for popular standards such as XML and XML's user interface

language (XUL), cascading style sheets (CSS), document object model (DOM)

and HTML 4. That means developers can make Netscape anything they want it

to be. Along the same lines, Netscape 6 will be available for most platforms,

including Linux, MacOS and Windows.

Administrators also will appreciate the fact that Netscape 6 offers

more control over cookies, offering the ability to accept all, none or one

at a time on a site-by-site basis. They'll also appreciate a master password

to help keep track of saved passwords for individual sites.

I did have a few gripes, most of which were minor. For some reason,

you can no longer search for content on a page using the CTRL-F keystroke.

Instead, you now have to access this function through a pull-down menu.

Likewise, the Home button is gone.

Anyone who uses the Web will welcome the final release of Netscape 6.

It promises to offer features and interoperability unmatched in Communicator

4.x or Internet Explorer. Those who really know how to use the Web to get

what they want will like it most. Casual users will find it easier to use

and will undoubtedly appreciate the added goodies, such as Net2Phone, an

application that lets you make long-distance phone calls from your PC at

a much less expensive rate than through phone companies. Lastly, developers

and IT departments will enjoy the ability to customize Netscape 6 into anything

they need it to be for clients and employees.

— Jefferson is a freelance analyst and writer based in Honolulu. He has

been covering technology for seven years.

REPORT CARD

Netscape 6

Netscape Communications Corp.

(650) 937-2555

www.netscape.com

Price and availability: Netscape 6 beta is available for free download here.

Remarks: Netscape 6 offers new features that make browsing the Internet more fun and efficient. An entirely new architecture promises to make application development easier and performance better. Every IT department and developer will like Netscape 6's strict adherence to open standards.

BY Steve Jefferson
June 28, 2000

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