- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2000

There may be no cure for the summertime blues, but there certainly is a solution for the software doldrums: Get a new browser. Or two, if you have a Macintosh. And while you're at it, jump out of the line at the post office.

Netscape 6 is in its second preview release, some five months since its first appearance at the Internet World expo in March. Many of the bugs discussed in this space on April 17 have been worked out quite nicely: the browser doesn't freeze, and the support for AOL Mail is now superb.

The latter should be no surprise: AOL bought most of Netscape last year (some product lines went to Sun Microsystems). That means that the Netscape Web browser includes AOL's Instant Messenger, built in, along with support for AOL's e-mail. Thus, if you have an AOL account for personal mail and another Internet service provider (ISP) for business, both accounts can reside on your computer, via the Netscape Mail option, with ease.

The best rendering of AOL e-mail is still within the AOL software (Version 6 of which is in development, though it's been reported that early Beta versions have been posted at some renegade Web sites). That's because some elements are best handled by AOL's internal software. But for 99 percent of AOL-stylee-mail, the Netscape Mail client works just fine.

I would ultimately hope that all of AOL's services would be made available through a Netscape browser, and that AOL will open up at least its e-mail system to other e-mail software such as Microsoft Outlook and Eudora, as well as to Netscape Mail. The easier it is for AOL's users to access its features, the more loyal those users will likely remain. The choice, however, resides in the Sterling, Va., headquarters of AOL.

The features I liked in the first Beta of Netscape 6 a fast-rendering browser (i.e., pages are drawn quickly and instantly resized for expanding or contracting windows); the "my sidebar" area where custom news can be seen at-a-glance; and the excellent "cookie manager," which can help preserve your privacy on line are all still there.

So, too, is the price tag: Zero. Zip. Nada. It's a freebie, yours for the downloading at (http://home.netscape.com/ browsers/6/index.html). It's well worth the experiment, and it shouldn't fritz out your computer, either. I've downloaded and installed versions for Windows 95/98 and Macintosh computers; the Netscape Web site indicates the release is also available for Linux 2.2.

Macintosh users can also try out the newest versions of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer 5 Macintosh Edition, which features a look designed to mirror the future Mac OS X Aqua interface and includes the option to change the browser's color to match current Macintosh computers. Tangerine, anyone?

More importantly, Internet Explorer 5 Macintosh Edition features an all-new rendering engine, named Tasman, which provides a 50 percent increase in performance and greater reliability. I haven't measured the speeds on my iBook, but it does seem rather zippy overall.

Best of all, in my view, is the cool new look: it's very sleek, stylish, and you can even make the various toolbars and buttons go away from the screen, expanding the browser window. The advantage of this is clear on smaller-screen iBooks and iMacs; but it's cool nonetheless. Like Netscape 6, Internet Explorer 5 (IE5) Macintosh Edition is not only free, but well worth a look. Unlike Netscape 6, however, this version of IE5 is Mac only. You can download a copy at www.microsoft.com/ mac/.

Postage licked

Pardon the pun, but here's a nice aspect to going to the post office. You no longer have to, in order to generate postage for letters and packages, as well priority and express mail items.

Stamps.com, a start-up based in Santa Monica, Calif., has released version 2.0 of its software (Windows only, I'm afraid) that'll connect your PC to an on-line postage store. Add your Microsoft Outlook or ACT! address book, plus a postage account (easy to set up), and you're ready to print on labels, envelopes and skip that time in line.

The new software has a better interface than earlier versions, the ability to edit destination addresses, and support for some very nice (and reasonably priced) labels from NCR Corp. which can be used for letters, packages and other items. Installation, setup and use is a snap. I especially like the on-line "chat" feature which hooks users directly to the firm's customer service department for quick answers to technical and service questions.

Come the holidays, you'll be able to incorporate seasonal designs for Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah into your printed postage. But, sadly, these goodies apply only to domestic mail: approval for international postage is pending.

Find out more at www.stamps.com; and if you're reading this while in line at a post office, you know that it's usually faster doing business on the Web.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002;e-mail MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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