Jewish World Review March 18, 2005 / 7 Adar II 5765


Netscape Ups Browser Ante, But Only for Windows Users

By Mark Kellner

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | According to the April issue of Maximum PC magazine (http://www.maximumpc.com), Microsoft Corp. is readying the release of Internet Explorer 7, available to users whose Windows XP is modified by Microsoft's "Service Pack 2," the somewhat controversial upgrade released last year. (Some people like the way SP2 has worked; others reported serious problems. I've upgraded a couple of PCs with SP2 and had no hassles — so far.)

But until then — and there's no official release date from Microsoft — what's a Windows user to do? There's been much talk about Firefox, the free, open-source Web browser that avoids many of the security hassles of IE (http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/central.html). A couple of weeks ago, Opera 8's Beta version for Windows bowed, and it's also quite nice (http://www.opera.com).

In suburban Dulles, Virginia, however, there's a new rival to IE which, oddly, co-opts a bit of the Microsoft program. It's something worth examining and it's called...Netscape.

Yes, Netscape, the once-dominant Web browser invented by Marc Andreesen and a team of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers some 12 years ago. Yes, the Netscape that sold for around $50 a copy, once-upon-a-time. Yes, the Netscape that lost precipitous market share to Microsoft when the latter created IE and bundled it with the Windows operating system. Yes, that Netscape.

The new version (http://www.netscape.com) is only available for Windows and it's built on elements of Mozilla/Firefox, which is developed independently of Netscape owner America Online. But because of historic links between Mozilla and Netscape — AOL provided startup funding and advice to the non-profit Mozilla Foundation — it made sense to start with this basic browser.

Among the extra features (and why the product is only available for Windows right now) is the ability to use the "rendering engine" from Internet Explorer to display certain Web pages. There are a number of Web sites — a relatively small number versus the billions of Internet sites around the world, but significant nonetheless — that will only display properly using IE. If you end up at one of these, and if you trust the site in question, you can click on a button in the display window's tab and use that IE feature.

What this gives Windows users is the ultimate in flexibility and security. If you visit a Web site that would attempt to exploit some of the "ActiveX" (stet) controls and other features of IE to plant "spyware" or other items on your PC, AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said last week, Netscape 8 will warn you. Some ActiveX controls might be acceptable, but this program will try to stop them.

While enhanced security is a positive factor in a Web browser, it's far from the only feature that commends Netscape 8 to end-users. There's a top-of-the-screen "control center" that reminds me of an automobile dash console: you can see Web addresses, easily search the Internet, see a scroll of news headlines, check Web-based or other e-mail accounts, and catch up on the local weather, along with controls to print pages, erase your visit history and store passwords.

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There's a pop-up blocker, of course, and also standard forward, back, navigation and page reload controls. You can also create "trays" of important or often-used Web sites, accessible with the click of a single button. All these controls seem natural and aren't ominous in any way; using them seemed easy and intuitive.

There's also a new "Netscape Netcenter" (stet) home page (http://netcenter.netscape.com/netcenter/) that can be viewed with any browser that runs a Macromedia Flash plugin. Created totally in Flash, the Netcenter page is a "portal" to news and information on the Web, largely from CNN, Time-Life magazines and other properties of Time Warner, AOL's owner. It's an improvement, I believe, over the current Netcenter page and for those with broadband access, it offers a lot of information in an easy-to-handle form.

Bottom line: whether it's the new Netscape browser, or the Netcenter home page, there's a lot of life left in the Netscape brand. Now, guys, get that browser ready for Mac users, won't you? Thanks.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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© 2004 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com