A New (Not Final) Coming of Netscape 6

This newest beta follows up on the release of the compact (a 16.5MB download with Java) browser that debuted in April. Improvements include a password manager that offers privacy control and automatic form completion on Web sites, as well as additions to the My Sidebar tool, a customizable collection of small tabbed windows to the side of the browser with searching, instant messaging, and related links.

Despite these enhancements, this is a buggy beta. With another preview slated before a final release later this year, you may not want to dump Communicator or Internet Explorer just yet.

A Changeable Face

Beyond its customizable features, the beta version of the browser comes with a choice of themes that alter the look and feel of the interface.

"Changing the theme is not like putting a different color on your cell phone," says Sol Goldfarb, group product manager at Netscape. "When you select an alternate theme, the user interface changes across the product from the geometry of the software to all the buttons and effects."

Preview Release 2 comes with only a classic theme (which makes the interface resemble Netscape 4.x versions) and a modern theme. Netscape plans to sponsor a theme contest to encourage developers to create many more designs for the final release, Goldfarb says.

Many people enjoy the convenience of Web-based e-mail, but miss the fancy functionalities that an e-mail client affords. Netscape 6 gives users the ability to access Netscape WebMail within Netscape Mail or through the browser.

"People like the access from anywhere of Netscape WebMail but miss the rich e-mail client," Goldfarb says. "Now when you're at your computer you get all the functionality of an e-mail client right in the browser."

You can also access Netscape Mail, AOL Mail, and even POP3 or IMAP4 accounts.

First seen in the early beta of the browser, the My Sidebar feature is a customizable collection of tools and content that remains accessible while you surf. It also includes tabbed windows for Netscape Instant Messenger, stocks, CNN, and a "what's related" area with links to sites similar to the one you're on. A search window offers anytime search using a choice of five search engines: Netscape Search, Google, CompuServe Search, AOL, and ICQ Search.

With Preview Release 2, users of Netscape's branded version of AOL Instant Messenger can now initiate group chat, Goldfarb says. Additional third-party My Sidebar tabs from the likes of the New York Times, EBay, and MapQuest are available at My Sidebar Central. (http://www.netscape.com/sidebar).

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