Netscape Releases New Beta

Struggling to put out a browser that will help it regain lost market share, Netscape Communications Tuesday launched
the latest beta version of the Netscape 6 browser sporting a number of new
features.


Available via free download,
Preview Release 2 is a follow-up to the first release, launched in April.
That version first showcased Netscape’s small, open source Gecko engine,
which the company licensed from mozilla.org.


Among the new tricks in the latest beta are “Themes,” which allow users to
change the look of the browser by applying different combinations of design
elements or “skins.” With this tool, businesses may create and distribute
custom versions of the new browser with their own branding.


Also included is a new, encrypted password manager that builds on the
privacy and security offerings of cookie manager and offers users the
convenience of protecting passwords, and revised My Sidebar features,
including My Sidebar Central and My Sidebar Directory.


The new directory features tabs from new tabs from: Real.com Guide, SportsLine.com and Digital City, among others.


Netscape Senior Vice President and General Manager Jim Martin said the
release was the America Online Inc. subsidiary’s latest step in its aggressive browser campaign.


“Built on the open source code, Netscape 6 continues to fulfill its promise
to deliver a browser that is smaller and faster, offers a complete
communications package, leads the industry in standards compliance and can
run across a wide variety of platforms, from traditional desktop PCs to new
computing devices,” said Martin.


Martin expressed confidence that the final version of the browser, released
this fall, would be a driving, innovative tool for consumers and developers.


But some industry observers aren’t so sure this will happen. Upon testing the first
version, Andrew Starling, editor of internet.com’s Web
Developer’s Journal
wrote
it was fitting that Netscape’s revamped browser is powered by the Gecko
engine because of the slew of bugs he found in the first preview version.


“Its font handling is poor, it can’t keep track of its own URL history, it
gave my CPU palpitations, and of course it’s liable to crash,” Starling
said, pulling no punches. “It rejects good Java, and as for its DHTML
handling – well, I haven’t quite figured that one out yet.”


Starling also said the only reason Netscape would get away with its new
product was because of its brand — coupled with the fact that many people
do not like Microsoft Corp. these days.


Indeed, one developer who encountered a problem with Netscape 6 sounded off Monday on Web Developer.com’s discussion forum.


“I’m in the process of putting up a site here that is split into a top and a bottom frame,” said the developer who goes by the name Shadow. “Everything showed up great in both
browsers, until I put in some simple javascript mouseovers into both frames. Now, it only opens in IE, but in Netscape I just get a big blank space at the top. That is definitely not what I had in mind!”


It’s quotes such as these that prompt Cameron Barrett, of Alphanumerica.com to write the following on his Web page:


“Netscape went ahead and released Netscape 6 PR2 today, well before it’s ready for primetim

e,
especially the Mac version. I’ve said as much to several people privately since I’ve had access to PR2
nightly builds for a couple of weeks now. Why Netscape keeps issuing pre-beta software, and then
getting slammed by their users for it being so slow and buggy, is beyond me. At this point the Mac
version of Mozilla (M17) is faster than Netscape 6 PR2 [discussion], and since .jar support for Mozilla
just landed in the M18 nightlies, I expect a substantial speed increase. The point we all need to take
from this is that Mozilla is not Netscape, despite the shared codebase.”


David Boswell, new technology producer at Alphanumerica.com, said he doesn’t really think the preview deserves the bashing it has taken at the hands of developers.


“I have a different persepctive,” Boswell said. “Most of the complaints are being lodged by those using it on the Mac; I use it on Unix and it screams. But it’s the open source development software that gets the most press. If I was using IE 6 three or four months before the final is released I’m sure Id be seeing my share of bugs.”


If problems snowball for Preview Release 2, and people turn viciously on
Netscape, Martin’s assertion this week in an interview with siliconvalley.internet.com that he did not want to
be in a browser war might be a gross understatement.

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