- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

At this point in the Internet revolution, having a good Web browser is as essential as breathing. Without a Web browser, it's impossible to experience the rich diversity of the Net; without a good browser, you can't take advantage of many features the Web has to offer.
Last week, Netscape Communications, a unit of Sterling, Va.-based AOL Time Warner, unleashed a "Preview Release" of its Netscape Web browser, version 7.0, which is available for Windows, Linux and Macintosh OS X. The firm says it has "taken Web browsing and communications to a new level of convenience, efficiency and Web-standards compliance" and my initial tests indicate that this is correct.
For example, one bane of my Mac experiment has been finding a Web browser to interoperate properly with Citibank's Web site. Something in the Mac versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Opera 6, OmniWeb and even Netscape 6.0 didn't like Citibank's site, or Citibank's site didn't like those browsers. Result: I had to use a PC to check my bank balance.
But and this is encouraging for what is essentially Beta software I was able to log on to the Citibank site without hassle seconds after installing Netscape 7.0 on an iMac. This is probably because of refinements in the Netscape Gecko browser engine, which is also said to make for a better Web-browsing experience.
I downloaded and tested versions of Netscape 7.0 for both the Macintosh OS X and Microsoft Windows XP operating systems. As with the standard Netscape 6.0 browser, the preview version is available free of charge. Both downloads were quick and error-free, and each installed on its respective computer without a hitch. On both machines, again as with earlier versions of Netscape, the new browser picked up Internet "Bookmarks" or links to favorite pages, that I had specified in Internet Explorer. That importing feature is a nice time saver and is not uncommon among browser packages.
With the installation accomplished, I was ready to start Web surfing. Just about every Web site loaded quickly and easily, with a faithful reproduction of what the page was supposed to look like. In the case of a certain daily newspaper that is not The Washington Times, while the front page loaded properly, internal pages continue to have an unusual display on the Macintosh, where the left column of "Bonds" would be displayed apart from the main text that is supposed to be in the center of the page. (In fairness to that "other paper" it should be noted that this idiosyncrasy has persisted across a range of Macintosh Web browsers. This quirk is not duplicated in Windows versions of the same programs.)
The interface-founded Netscape 7.0 is clean and nonintrusive. Buttons are easy to find, and on both systems can be hidden to create a better view of the screen. As has been the case in almost every version of Netscape, this new release includes both address book and e-mail client software, making the program a rather well-rounded Internet solution.
Because Netscape is now part of the AOL empire, the Web browser is also tightly integrated with AOL's instant-messaging software and e-mail network. These are tremendous advantages for people who may want to check their AOL mail without firing up the AOL software, or who need to communicate via text messaging with people on the AOL network.
Things were not totally flawless, as can be expected in Beta software. One site's Java applet wouldn't conform, and because Real Networks Inc. (www.real.com) hasn't provided an OS X version of its Real Player software, I could not get the [email protected] feature to work on the iMac. Many Mac enthusiasts are awaiting word from Real Networks that the firm will support OS X. (Ironically, Microsoft's Windows Media Player already does; go figure.)
But as a first effort, and for its nice design, solid features and cross-platform availability for Windows, Linux and the Mac, I give Netscape 7.0 high marks along with high hopes for further refinement. The Preview Release of Netscape 7.0 is available for free download at: www.netscape.com/browsers.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; send e-mail to [email protected]; or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mr. Kellner on www.adrenalineradio.com every Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. EST.

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