Technology

Netscape Navigator 6.0: Better?

I use my browser all the time. It’s one of the programs on my system that just stays open most of the time.

I used to love Netscape but was seduced by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0 and never went back to Netscape on a regular basis since. However, something told me that a browser that was two years in development could outdo the Internet Explorer 5.0 browser I have on my machine. So I downloaded Netscape 6.0, the first browser to be released by Netscape since it was acquired by AOL.

The first thing that strikes me in this browser is that it seems very me-too’ish. A lot of the features that made IE a better browser are now there: small install program, not having to install the mail client (I use Eudora anyway), faster page presentation. All those were among the features that lured me into Microsoft’s camp when they released their browser.

Sure, having them try to register me to Netcenter was annoying (I managed to bypass that) and it’s true that the browser color scheme (horrible blue) was terrible but I figured that this were only temporary pains.

I loaded the 10-20 sites I hit most of the time and they loaded almost as fast as they do in IE 5 and much faster than they used to in Netscape 4.7 (which still leaves me to wonder where Netscape 5.0 went…)

Some nice features include the “remember this decision” box when you tell Netscape to refuse or accept a cookie, allowing you to select which cookies you want to receive and which ones you don’t and, over time, have to do so less and less. The same should have been done for the password feature (another feature that was in IE before NN).

So far so good. Yes, this version is a vast improvement over the previous version of the browser. But is it as good as IE? I figured that the differences would probably appear over time.

But then I tried to start customizing it. That’s when the problems began.

The first thing that was annoying was when I wanted to customize my bookmarks bar. The browser connected to a page on Netscape’s site… Unfortunately, the page was not there and I got a 404 message. In other words, I can’t customize my bookmarks bar: Major problem as I usually get rid of the links that are on there and replace them with my own choices.

Then I figured I would try to get rid of the blue bar, by customizing it. After some searching on Mozilla.org, I discovered that it is customizable… if you’re willing to go and add and remove some files in the Netscape directory. Great if you’re a programmer, not so good if you’re a consumer. Another score for IE, which has a browser accessory to do so easily.

On the standard compliance end, Netscape took the high road and did a good job at supporting most of the W3C standards. Problem is: very few other people on the net did and, as a result, pages that were once “Best viewed with Netscape Navigator” now can’t load because Netscape no longer fully supports its non-standard version of DHTML. Ouch! This lack of backward compatibility could be distressing. Netscape can’t afford moves like that now that it doesn’t own a 90% marketshare.

The next test was on the plug-ins end. Sure, IE has a definite advantage with some of its ActiveX plugins but that was resolved by Netscape with its easy plug-in setups in the 4.0 version of the browser. Well, we’re now going back to the old days, when you had to download a plug-in, stop Netscape, install the plug-in, and restart Netscape.

Except, you can’t find the plug-in. I figured the first one I’d go for was Macromedia Flash. I figured a lot of site use Flash, might as well get the plug-in. Oops… I was informed by Macromedia that they

a href=”http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/index.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash” mce_href=”http://www.macromedia.com/shockwave/download/index.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash” title=”If Macromedia can’t find it…”>are unable to locate a single Web player that best matches your platform and operating system

. Well, I guess I’ll live without Flash but that pushes Netscape back. Another score for IE.

An hour into my Netscape experience, I went back to the AOL site and then it happened, the sight that I now remember fondly from my days as a Netscape user:

This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down.

I figured that it was a preview release and that it would get better and, after shutting the program down, didn’t go back to it. But I found it worrisome that AOL (now Netscape’s parent) would be the site to crash this browser.

It’s such a shame, when I think about it. This browser could have been good but it wasn’t and as, a result, only served to emphasize why Netscape lost the browser war: it just wasn’t good enough to compete in the marketplace.

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