Netscape Revamps Site and Browser Beta

Netscape expects to release Netscape 6 later this year.

Netscape.com's improvements, which appeared on Wednesday, centre on its core Netbusiness services and tools launched in September. It adds content from new partners, including soon-to-be sibling companies that are part of Time Warner.

Netscape has also enhanced its Web-based e-mail, so you can synchronise the Netscape address book on your PC with Netscape.com WebMail. Netscape Preview Release 3 is more tightly integrated with the Netscape.com site.

"Instead of adding features, we focused on stability," says Michael LaGuardia, director of Netscape's client product team. Besides fixing bugs, Netscape has added a modern motif with a number of interface tweaks.

First Impressions of Refreshed Browser, SiteDespite Netscape's promise to eradicate bugs, during a cursory review of the browser I stumbled on plenty. Its e-mail client crashed several times, as did the browser, when I tried to print a Web page.

Another problem cropped up when I attempted to run Java applications. It got hung up when I tried using MSN.com's Java-based gaming site and when I tried running AOL.com's "AIM Express," a Java-based version of AOL Instant Messenger. In both cases, the Java app wouldn't run properly. I was instructed to install the Java plug-in, which failed to install.

AOL's error message states, "AIM Express has not been extensively tested with this version of this browser software."

I couldn't distinguish any difference in Web page load times when testing Netscape 6 against Internet Explorer 5.5 and Netscape's 4.72 Communicator browser. Overall, though, the Netscape 6 Preview is more stable than earlier versions.

Netscape.com's new design is easier to navigate. Links previously organised as a taxonomy of sites are now placed inside five horizontal subject categories. The sections are Business, Personal Finance, NetBusiness, Shop, Tech, and Fun.

You can't customise the content to your own taste, which would be nice. Also, much material is tied directly to the Netscape browser and network. For example, I selected "Netscape Radio" in the Tech section and had to sign in to Netcenter before I could hear music.

With AOL and Netscape's sprawling empire of Web properties, it would be nice if AOL adopted a single sign-in service so I can use one name and password at the growing number of related sites. For example, although I was signed into Netscape 6's version of AIM, I had to log on to each individual password-protected Netscape and AOL site. Microsoft Passport provides this service.

Netscape Invites Business Browsing

Netscape has simplified access to productivity tools such as its WebMail, WebCalendar, and Instant Messenger service in an attempt to become a small business destination, says Susan Merit, Netscape's vice president for design and production.

This revamped version competes more squarely with Microsoft BCentral and Yahoo Small Business. Each is vying for the attention of small business owners who want to grow their business online. Each offers a mix of content, Web applications, and e-commerce tools to help businesses succeed online.

Perhaps the browser-site integration is a deliberate attempt to draw business customers of Netscape.com back to the Netscape browser. Only 13.9 per cent of Web surfers use the Netscape browser, according to Web analysis firm WebSideStory. Based on data it collected from 50 million Internet users, the company says 86.08 per cent use Microsoft Internet Explorer to surf the Web.

Browser Evolves

Netscape Preview Release 3 is the fruit of a nearly three-year effort to rebuild the browser from the ground. Programmers everywhere were welcome to contribute to the open-source development project, dubbed Mozilla.

Netscape 6 is distinct from previous Netscape browsers. Netscape 6 abandons Communicator's HTML rendering engine in favour of the newer and nimbler Gecko browser technology. The Gecko engine renders graphics and text and promises faster surfing. Since its development the Gecko Web rendering engine has been licensed by a number of developers for use in everything from cable set-top boxes, Internet appliances, and handheld devices. Netscape Preview Release 3 is available as a free download from the site. It takes up roughly 16MB, and is available for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux operating systems. This prerelease edition follows the August Preview Release 2 browser.

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