It is bold. It is brilliant. And, as might be expected with a preview release of software, it is more than a little bug-infestedBut the newest version of Netscape Navigator 6, announced recently at the Spring Internet World show in Los Angeles, is a great hint at what Web browsing is going to look like in the future.
Coming amid the continuing federal effort to sanction rival Microsoft Corp. for bundling its Internet Explorer browser (IE) into the Windows operating system, the announcement from Netscape, a subsidiary of Sterling, Va.-based America Online, was bound to attract some notice. Having it made by AOL Chairman Steve Case only intensified the spotlight.
Beyond the hype, there are some important features to note in the new product. One is that the makers claim Netscape 6 is more standards-based than IE, making better use of Java and other Internet standards.
The new software has a feature called “My Sidebar,” which Netscape says is a first-of-its-kind, fully customizable pullout tab that lets users keep the on-line functions and information they rely on most at their fingertips.
On the communications side, the firm now integrates Netscape Instant Messenger into the browser, allowing on-line chat with various people including AOL members, and the new electronic-mail client gets access to multiple e-mail accounts, including AOL accounts.
That latter function is rare. Only the late, lamented Claris E-mailer software for Macintosh was known as non-AOL software that could retrieve AOL e-mail.
One of the most exciting features is a new AutoTranslate feature, based upon a service called Gist-in-Time from AlisTechnologies, Inc., which translates Web pages in one click.
While providing only a rough translation, it gives the sense of what is being said in another language without any fuss. Languages include French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese. It’s a very, very cool feature.
For the security conscious, the software includes a rather good Cookie Manager, which allows users to accept or block cookies placed on a PC’s hard drive when browsing. In a day when such electronic tokens can sometimes be used to gather marketing information, it is a good feature to have.
And perhaps unique among browsers, this one will support a wide variety of computing platforms. Netscape 6 runs on Windows, Macintosh and LINUX computers. Through a group known as mozilla.org, Netscape 6 will be made available on several other operating systems, including Sun’s Solaris, Hewlett Packard’s HP/UX, IBM’s AIX, and Be’s BeOS.
The bad news is that, in operation, things aren’t as smooth as I’d like. Running on a somewhat-balky Windows 2000 machine, as well as on another, equally contentious Windows 98 (second edition) unit, the program tends to freeze at times. The e-mail support for AOL is spotty at first I could log on, then I couldn’t; my attempts to send e-mail via AOL worked only once.
But the other elements of the program the translation feature noted above, the browser itself, the sidebar all work very nicely. Pages load much more quickly than one might expect, and the look is fresh and inviting.
And one more good feature: In older versions of Netscape, cutting and pasting text from the browser into Microsoft Word generated a lot of extra paragraph marks that needed to be edited out. In the new version, such cut-and-paste is as flawless as if one were using the Microsoft browser. Praise to Netscape on this improvement.
The good news, of course, also is that Netscape 6 like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is free to download (www.netscape.com) and will remain free when it’s released later this year. If you want a fresh experience on your computer desktop, check it out. I plan to keep up with new preview releases as well as the final version.
Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer’s Web page, www.markkellner.com.