Netscape 6: A Lean Browsing Machine

So instead of Netscape Communicator 5, we have a simple, straightforward Netscape 6, which makes its formal debut Wednesday in a presentation by America Online Chair Steve Case.

The changes are dramatic indeed, including a slimmed-down profile (the download is less than half the size of Communicator 4.7's), a slicked-up user interface, the first third-party America Online e-mail client, and an intriguing combination of Web search tools and instant messaging.

Netscape faithfuls will want to check out this version and will appreciate its features. But whether Netscape can woo back those who've defected to Microsoft Internet Explorer is another question. Those in the IE camp need to be willing to experiment with new features--especially if they're reasonably satisfied with their current browser. For users of both browsers, however, Netscape 6 is a significant change. It is as different from Communicator 4.7 as it is from IE5.

Thin Is In

A look at Netscape 6's first preview release reveals that the intention is to get back to browser basics.

For starters, it's compact in a way browsers haven't been since the glory years of Navigator 2: The full download of Netscape 6 tops out at 8.5MB, compared to 18MB for the bloated Communicator 4.7 and 29.4MB for the soup-to-nuts IE5.

Netscape 6 got thin by dropping Communicator's least-used components (when was the last time you invoked Netcaster?) and by abandoning Communicator's HTML rendering engine in favor of the newer and nimbler Gecko browser technology.

Gecko is not only smaller but also faster than its Communicator predecessor: Given equal network conditions, complicated Web pages load more quickly with Gecko, although we didn't put this early version to formal tests.

Well Tailored for You

The attractive, contemporary-looking interface offers lots more customization options than the competition does. The most prominent is My Sidebar, a collection of small, tabbed windows (Netscape calls them tabs) on the left side of the screen that hold Web information and applications you want to access with a minimum of fuss.

Netscape 6 comes preloaded with a handful of tabs--customized minipages like the Web clipping service provided for Web-enabled mobile phones. Netscape provides tabs for CNN headlines and stock quotes from your Netcenter portfolio, and you'll be able to get more tabs from Web sites that offer them. Netscape says more than 400 tabs will be available at launch.

If you don't want to see My Sidebar, it collapses with a simple mouse click on the side of its frame; no labyrinthine menu item checkoffs are required.

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