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  • The Return of Netscape Navigator: Does the World Need Another Browser?

    June 5th, 2007

    Holy nostalgia! Isn't it strange how things sometimes go full circle? Take Netscape Navigator, the browser that I adopted and used on my Mac until Microsoft's Internet Explorer came along and blew it away. That's the price the erstwhile Netscape company paid for developing fat and buggy software and allowing a competitor to pull the rug from under them.

    Of course, Internet Explorer is now also fat and buggy, and ridden with security leaks, so Microsoft deserves to lose some market share. No, make that a lot of market share.

    Indeed, when the folks at Mozilla developed yet another alternative browser, Firefox, you had to wonder if they were serious. After all, their flagship products had already been trounced, beaten, and turned into forgotten also-rans.

    This isn't to say that Mozilla had bad products. Although Netscape was no longer being produced on the Mac platform, the fully-featured Mozilla browser suite -- now reincarnated as SeaMonkey -- had lots of fans among the power user set. But armed with lots of good write-ups, Firefox did what no browser had done before, and that was to steal lots and lots of users from Internet Explorer.

    It got to a point where Microsoft finally woke up and saw the threat looming before them, and decided to release Internet Explorer 7 to Windows XP users, rather than wait for its intended arrival in Vista. In fact, it was presented as part of their standard update packages, so they could be sure that most Windows users would have a copy before long.

    True, Internet Explorer 7 is a better browser when compared to its predecessor. It is indeed somewhat more attuned with Internet standards, and it certainly has more of the state-of-the-art features, such as tabs and phishing protection. But it remains a bloated monstrosity and it wasn't enough to stem the tide towards Firefox, Apple's Safari and other alternatives.

    So Firefox would seem to be quite enough. But evidently not to Mozilla. You see, my friends, Netscape Navigator is back! This time, the new versions are being made available simultaneously on the Mac, Windows and Linux platforms. Based on the version 9.0b1 that I examined, it's basically Firefox with friendlier, funky icons and some socially-oriented features that may appeal to the younger members of our audience.

    The new features include the Link Pad, which opens in the sidebar and allows you to insert links to sites that you might want to visit again, but are not yet "qualified" to reside among your bookmarks. The sidebar can also be used for a News Tracker, so you can keep track of the latest celebrity gossip -- such as how Paris Hilton is faring behind bars -- or important events in the world with just a casual glance.

    Other niceties include Resizeable Textarea, which allows you to drag the bottom right corners of a text field and get more space to add information. Now I don't have to expand our Comments window -- at least for Navigator users. Well, maybe, because I couldn't make it work.

    For the social set, there's a Friends' Activity sidebar, to help you see what your pals are up to, along with notification in case you receive email from a Netscape account.

    Other than these and similar enhancements, the Navigator experience is Firefox through and through, and, based on this early release version, pretty quick to perform its tasks, after some slowness during first launch.

    Even your favorite Firefox add-ons should run just fine, same as they do on Firefox 2. I'm not all that big on such things, but I do use Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer, so I can keep my bookmarks in tune between my desktop and notebook Macs. Indeed, this particular module works just fine.

    Of course the ultimate question is whether the arrival of a rebadged Firefox will have any impact on the market. Does the brand name even have traction anymore? I honestly don't know, but it's certainly a curiosity. Indeed, the more browsers the folks at Mozilla put out there, the more options Windows users have to abandon Internet Explorer.

    And the fact that it is cross-platform all over again is just the icing on the cake. So maybe everything old is indeed new again.



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    11 Responses to “The Return of Netscape Navigator: Does the World Need Another Browser?”

    1. Malcolm says:

      How does this incarnation of Navigator fare at printing complex web pages? Any better than Firefox  (which is hit-or-miss at tricky printing tasks)?

    2. How does this incarnation of Navigator fare at printing complex web pages? Any better than Firefox (which is hit-or-miss at tricky printing tasks)?

      In that respect, there's no difference. I expect this will have to wait until Firefox 3, and whatever derivation is used for Netscape.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Malcolm says:

      Thanks for the clear answer Gene.  Once the Firefox folks make some headway on complex printing their browser will demonstrably be unrivaled (IMHO) with the vast array of useful extension options.

    4. Andrew says:

      I used to work for the government and even though the world had settled on IE (6 for Windows, 5 for Mac), we were still forced to use Navigator 4.7. That experience will probably be enough that no matter how good, I'll cringe if the animations and icons are similar to the old Netscape's.

      I use Firefox mostly on both my PCs and Macs (consistency is good) and occasionally use IE7 and Safari. I really don't see Netscape being a player. If I want a full suite there are Mozilla's own Seamonkey, and I hear Opera is very good, if I can devote the time to mastering its UI.

    5. Thanks for the clear answer Gene. Once the Firefox folks make some headway on complex printing their browser will demonstrably be unrivaled (IMHO) with the vast array of useful extension options.

      They have some alpha versions of the next version available, but I think it might be a tad premature to play with them. I'll wait till they get closer to beta and have all or most of the key features -- such as the improved printing of course.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Tom B says:

      I have been a huge fan of the Firefox family since (Mac) Mozilla 0.98 or so. But 2.0 is a train wreck-- super slow and buggy (on the Mac. On XP it is roughly equal to previous versions). I downgraded. I hope 3.0 is better.

      Safari is very good, but aside from the aforesaid caveat, I prefer Firefox.

      IE, of course, is worthless, even on the Windows platform; the ONLY reason you'd want to use it is for deliberately IE-only, WWW-standards hostile web sites, of which, thankfully, there are only a miniscule number.

      I think, in general, bookmark management could stand significant improvement. I don't know exactly what I want, but no browsers I've looked-- not Firefox; not Safari-- none of them really manage or categorize large numbers of bookmarks well.

      Anything going on with Camino?

    7. I honestly wondered what all the fuss was about w/ a new version of Netscape being released. Nostalgia, boredom, and curiousity got the best of me and I finally downloaded Netscape 9 for my Macbook Pro. And, you know what? I actually really, really like it!

    8. I have been a huge fan of the Firefox family since (Mac) Mozilla 0.98 or so. But 2.0 is a train wreck– super slow and buggy (on the Mac. On XP it is roughly equal to previous versions). I downgraded. I hope 3.0 is better.

      Safari is very good, but aside from the aforesaid caveat, I prefer Firefox.

      IE, of course, is worthless, even on the Windows platform; the ONLY reason you'd want to use it is for deliberately IE-only, WWW-standards hostile web sites, of which, thankfully, there are only a miniscule number.

      I think, in general, bookmark management could stand significant improvement. I don't know exactly what I want, but no browsers I've looked– not Firefox; not Safari– none of them really manage or categorize large numbers of bookmarks well.

      Anything going on with Camino?

      Camino 1.5 is just out, but, aside from a more Mac-like interface, I don't see enough of a difference to draw a great distinction. But if you want a Mac-exclusive product, it's worth looking at.

      Peace,
      Gene

    9. Andrew says:

      IE has one extremely important use for which nothing else will suffice, and that is Windows Update.  I also prefer the way that IE downloads files, with a standard dialog box allowing me to choose where the file is saved.  Firefox and Safari are more awkward when trying to send somewhere other than the location. set in your preferences.

    10. Just surfed in with Navigator 9. Seems pretty solid so far. I like the Link Pad idea.

    11. IE has one extremely important use for which nothing else will suffice, and that is Windows Update. I also prefer the way that IE downloads files, with a standard dialog box allowing me to choose where the file is saved. Firefox and Safari are more awkward when trying to send somewhere other than the location. set in your preferences.

      Point taken, but most people don't really want to concern themselves about such things. Besides, putting a downloaded file on the desktop simplifies the process of finding the file later. You can't imagine how much trouble that can generate.

      Peace,
      Gene

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