The browser, Navigator, is the core application for most users, and has undergone a major interface redesign, with a sleek futuristic look – called a Theme – a refined top bar with only five buttons for forward, back, reload, stop and print, and the location bar. Access to the other components of the Netscape suite are via a little control panel in the bottom left hand corner. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I certainly prefer it to IE5’s highly derivative iMac look-alike approach. Under the bonnet, so to speak, Netscape is powered by Gecko. It’s the result of extensive R-&-D by Netscape, building the architecture from the ground up to try to ensure a small, fast and compact application that bucks the bloatware trend that has become a feature of the browser wars. However, it’s hard to see the evidence of this – the minimum memory requirements for N6 are 16MB compared to just 7MB for IE 4.5, though you could add another 6MB for Outlook Express. The actual Netscape app itself is a mean 227Kb, but the Netscape folder as a whole is over 28MB compared to 4.5MB for IE. This would be irrelevant if the application was faster to launch and run than IE, but there’s little evidence to support this. And Netscape is still crash-prone, bringing up the talkback agent application with annoying regularity. Netscape 6 possesses the very latest Java support, thanks to the Open JVM Interface (OJI). OJI lets you download and use new OJI-compliant Java Virtual Machines within the browser the moment they become available. Gecko is being maintained as an open standard, with Netscape hoping that it will be adopted across the whole range of internet-enabled devices – such as PDAs, handhelds, set-top boxes and mobile phones. It will certainly help Netscape’s cause if it can establish its browser as the open source standard across all platforms. Pick-up the tab
Netscape 6 is a good product. In many ways, it sets the standards for the next generation of Web applications. But, whether it will be enough to recover some of the territory lost to Microsoft remains to be seen.