Review – Netscape 6.1

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The browser wars are at an end, or are they? After what seemed like a long hiatus, it appears the conflict might begin anew, only on a new playing field. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser has been deemed the winner by many. Now, with the efforts of Mozilla.org (which comprises many Netscape engineers) and an open-source approach, the new Netscape browser is attempting a comeback; an endeavor in which it might just succeed…

Installation

Ever since the unveiling of the NS 6 Preview Releases, Netscape has followed Microsoft’s lead, using a small application to download the core components of their browsers. However, Netscape’s versions of these apps tended to be buggy, and never seemed to connect very well, which made those users with slow dial-up connections wince at the prospect of downloading these large files. All in all, the installation of Netescape 6 was renowned as a nightmare, and it once seemed that the only reason users might endure the process would be to test compatibility.

In this round however, Netscape’s installer application not only receives a facelift (indeed, it looks quite different), it also seems to be crash-resistant. Additionally, I never experienced any "hang time" while downloading (and I’m one of those aforementioned slow dial-up users)! The download is roughly 20 megs — but it’s still smaller than the equivalent IE download. And immediately after all the files I’d opted to download (yes, you can customize of course) were safely saved on my computer, the installation took over. I wasn’t even at my computer, and yet when I returned the installation was complete! Now I was ready to load up this new monster.

Performance

When Mozilla released the .092 build of its browser, they bundled with it the ability to run the massive Mozilla engine in the background, which effectively makes the excruciating load time Mozilla-based browsers originally required a thing of the past. Netscape has followed suit, and now I can open Netscape 6.1 with just a 10 second wait (and if that sounds too long to you, just picture it taking 30 seconds… see your worries disappearing?). Immediately upon opening the browser, I dove into the first test — page loading. The Mozilla engine has always seemed to render pages and content a little faster than its IE counterpart — of course provided that one’s computer could run the program without choking…. Good news everybody: it still can. Upon startup, I noticed a small increase in memory usage (an increase of roughly 5%), which allowed Netscape to actually run and perform what it was meant to do — browse — more effectively than it has in previous iterations!

I went to several sites (SitePoint Forums was one of them), and noticed all of the pages seemed to load more quickly than they do in IE. Whenever I loaded a page, it seemed to chew through the code like it was cotton candy. That’s really worth something.

Anyone who has had the privilege of using prior releases of Netscape 6 will know that crashes occurred so frequently that for one to use Netscape for any extended period of time was suicide, so to speak. Well, not any longer. I have yet to crash this version — it just won’t bite the dust. It seems that now I can actually use 6.1 for practical tasks over a decent amount of time. As I was unable to crash it, I decided to take a look into some of the other features of this new release.

Features

Upon first opening 6.1, users will notice a slight face lift. There isn’t quite so much green as before, but instead more of a gray tone. The status bar on the bottom left has been moved to the right (following the example of IE6), and as a whole, the browser looks more streamlined.

It seems that standard in today’s IE and NS programs are enough bells and whistles to satisfy any user. As they say "imitation is the highest form of flattery", and I imagine the crew over at Netscape should be feeling pretty good about that saying now. IE6 reminds me of Netscape 6.1 in more ways than one — leaving the question open: "is Netscape really all that bad?" Obviously some people don’t think so…

Bookmarks are managed via the same manager Netscape has used since version 4 (which, incidentally, I have always preferred over IE’s methods). Additionally, in many prior releases of NS6, I had a lot of trouble even running the Mail program (facing issues that ranged from crashes, to freezes, and even load failures which made it hard to consider the Mail client useful). Well, surprise. I have encountered no trouble at all utilizing it in this version — perhaps I’ll make it my default Mail handler one of these days.

The Bottom Line

Overall, Netscape 6.1 is a vast improvement over the prior releases. Bugs are virtually nonexistent. Usability and load time have made a lot of progress in terms of stability and speed, respectively. And the program as a whole runs faster and consumes less system resources than before.

Simply put, NS6.1 may be the missing link Netscape has needed in order to grab back a decent chunk of market share. However, only time will tell. Web developers who only use Mozilla-based browsers to test Web page compatibility will probably opt to stick with the latest version of Mozilla (.093). But you shouldn’t ignore NS6.1 altogether. I’m sure I’ll be using both.

Download Netscape 6.1 today, and try it for yourself.

Colin AndersonColin Anderson
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Colin is a freelance Web designer and is currently working on launching his new Web development business on-line. He's also a well-known contributor to the SitePoint Forums.

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