- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

According to the April issue of Maximum PC magazine, Microsoft Corp. is readying the release of Internet Explorer 7, available to users whose Windows XP is modified by Microsoft’s “Service Pack 2,” the somewhat controversial upgrade released last year.

(Some people like the way SP2 has worked; others reported serious problems. I’ve upgraded a couple of PCs with SP2 and had no hassles so far.)

But until then — and there’s no official release date from Microsoft — what’s a Windows user to do? There’s been much talk about Firefox, the free, open-source Web browser that avoids many of the security hassles of IE. A couple of weeks ago, Opera 8’s Beta version for Windows debuted, and it’s also quite nice.

In Sterling, Va., however, there’s a new rival to IE that, oddly, co-opts a bit of the Microsoft program. It’s called Netscape.

Yes, Netscape, the once-dominant Web browser invented by Marc Andreesen and a team of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers some 12 years ago. Yes, the Netscape that sold for around $50 a copy, once upon a time. Yes, the Netscape that lost precipitous market share to Microsoft when the latter created IE and bundled it with the Windows operating system.

The new version is only available for Windows and it’s built on elements of Mozilla/Firefox, developed independently of Netscape owner America Online. But because of historic links between Mozilla and Netscape — AOL provided start-up funding and advice to the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation — it made sense to start with this basic browser.

Among the extra features is the ability to use the “rendering engine” from Internet Explorer to display certain Web pages. Many Web sites will only display properly using IE. If you end up at one of these, you can click on a button in the display window’s tab and use that IE feature.

This gives Windows users the ultimate in flexibility and security. If you visit a Web site that would attempt to exploit some of the “Activex” controls and other features of IE to plant “spyware” on your PC, Netscape 8 will warn you. Some Activex controls might be acceptable, but this program will try to stop them.

While enhanced security is a positive in a Web browser, it’s far from the only feature that commends Netscape 8 to end-users. There’s a top-of-the-screen “control center” that reminds me of an automobile dash console. You can see Web addresses, easily search the Internet, see a scroll of news headlines, check Web-based or other e-mail accounts, check the weather, along with controls to print pages, erase your visit history and store passwords.

There’s a pop-up blocker and standard forward, back, navigation and page reload controls.

There’s also a new “Netscape Netcenter” that can be viewed with any browser that runs a Macromedia Flash plug-in. Created totally in Flash, the Netcenter page is a portal to news and information on the Web, largely from CNN, Time-Life magazines and other properties of Time Warner, AOL’s owner.

It’s an improvement over the current Netcenter page and for those with broadband access, it offers a lot of information in an easy-to-handle form.

Whether it’s the new Netscape browser, or the Netcenter home page, there’s a lot of life left in the Netscape brand.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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