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  • The Return of Navigator to the Mac: Do We Need Another Browser?

    October 15th, 2007

    Before Microsoft pulled a few notorious stunts to dominate the browsing world, which got the attention of antitrust regulators, there was Netscape. But over time, it grew fat and buggy, which is something you’re apt to blame Microsoft for.

    In those days, forgetting the dirty tricks, the original Internet Explorer, particularly on the Mac, was a fast and slick little application for its time. Rather than try to give you a boatload of features, they included pretty much what you needed, and directed you to Outlook Express if you needed a reasonably efficient email client.

    I’ll admit it. I did indeed switch to Internet Explorer, and abandoned Netscape, as did most of the public. Of course, when Internet Explorer left the Mac in the wake of Safari’s release, I switched yet again.

    Forgetting the odyssey of Netscape being bought by AOL for too much money long after it’s time had passed, and the origins of Mozilla and all the rest, it’s a sure thing that today’s Firefox is a terrific browser. I have high hopes version three, due later this year, will fix the printing limitations and other concerns.

    Meanwhile, after a full version absence from the Mac platform, Netscape is back, renamed to its original moniker as Navigator. After some public betas, the final version 9.0 came out Monday afternoon. The simultaneous release also includes a Windows and Linux version, all sharing the same code-base and near-identical look and feel.

    On the surface, it has the requisite Netscape green color scheme, but underneath it beats the heart of Firefox, using the same engine, and sharing many of the same features, for better or worse. However, the reborn Navigator adds some delights that will give it more of a consumer appeal.

    These include, from the official spec list:

    • Visual Refresh — Netscape Navigator 9’s theme has been updated to save screen-space and leave more room for the websites you visit.
    • URL Correction — Navigator 9 will automatically correct common typos in URLs. For example, if you accidentally type googlecom, Navigator will fix it be to google.com. The browser will watch for nearly 30 different types of common mistakes and correct them for you (asking you to confirm, if you choose to enable confirmation).
    • Link Pad — The Link Pad is a new sidebar feature that allows you to save links/URLs that you want to visit later without cluttering your bookmarks. Just drag a link over the Link Pad status bar icon and drop it to save it in the Link Pad. By default, clicking on an item in the Link Pad will open it in the browser and remove it from the list, saving you the step of deleting it.
    • Extension Compatibility — Navigator 9 shares an architecture with the latest Mozilla technologies; as such, Navigator 9 will let you install extensions that are compatible with Firefox® 2.
    • Sidebar Mini Browser — You’ve always been able to have bookmarks open in the sidebar, but we’ve improved this functionality and extended it to all links, not just bookmarks. Additionally, we’ve added a navigation toolbar to the sidebar for even easier split-screened browsing. Just right-click on a link and select “Open Link in Sidebar” to get started!
    • Restart Netscape — A small but oft-requested feature: you can now restart Navigator (and keep your current tabs intact) by selecting “Restart Navigator” from the File menu.
    • Resizeable Text Area — Drag the bottom-right corners of text fields in forms to add more typing space.
    • Tab History — Opening a link in a new tab will give the new tab the same history as the source tab for a more seamless tabbed browsing experience.
    • OPML Support — Netscape Navigator supports importing and exporting your bookmarks in OPML, a popular format for sharing lists of newsfeeds.
    • Throbber — By popular demand, the Netscape 7-style throbber is back. Click on it any time to visit Netscape.com.
    • Combined Stop/Reload button — To save space in your toolbar, we’ve combined the stop and reload buttons. Because you never need both at the same time, the toolbar will only show the relevant half of the pair.

    In passing, I should mention that the ability to resize a text area is also part of Leopard and Safari 3.

    Performance-wise, Navigator 9 is a near-identical match to the latest Firefox, as is the rendering quality and site compatibility. If you didn’t notice the shortened toolbar, or the weather display on the lower right (courtesy of a bunded extension), you might never notice the difference. Indeed, as I was writing this article, our WordPress blogging system functioned identically.

    If you’re using Firefox already, you probably won’t care all that much that there is also a Navigator. But if you want something a little more user-friendly, it’s certainly an alternative. Indeed, I installed the “Foxmarks” extension, used to create an online backup of your bookmarks, and I was off and running.

    While I abandon Firefox for Navigator? I can tell you that, today at least, Navigator is a little nicer looking, so I might stick with it for a while.

    But tomorrow I might go back to Firefox and, yes, I also run the latest Safari 3 beta and even Opera to make sure my sites are as compatible as possible. Oh yes, that means running Internet Explorer 7 on Windows Vista. But that’s the games we play until Microsoft learns that the standards that count aren’t always the ones they control.



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