Netscape 6: Faster, Better Looking
Two and a half years in the making, the final version of Netscape 6 released a couple weeks ago bears little resemblance to previous versions of the company's browser. On the outside is a new user interface, and on the inside is a new, faster engine.
This version complies fully with the current HTML standard established by the W3C and is based on Netscape's long-awaited "Gecko" engine. (The engine is the part of your browser that interprets and renders Web pages.) Gecko is faster than the old Netscape engine, which translates into faster-loading pages. Aside from a new engine, Netscape 6 also sports a contemporary user interface. Should you upgrade from Netscape Communicator 4.7 or switch from Internet Explorer? That's a matter of personal taste.
There are three installation options: Full, Recommended, and Custom. The Recommended option installs Navigator, Netscape Instant Messenger, a spelling checker for Composer, Macromedia Flash, and an HP plug-in that identifies printers. I chose the Full installation, which includes the same programs as the Recommended option but adds Sun Java 2, Net2Phone, and RealPlayer 8. The Custom option lets you select the components you wish to install.
If you're interested in testing Netscape 6 out for yourself,
When the download and installation are complete, a profile manager pops up asking if you'd like to keep your current settings. If you had an older version of Netscape running, you can import your old settings, or you can use Netscape's default settings. If you're sharing Netscape with other users on the same PC, you can set up multiple profiles (for keeping your e-mail in-box, bookmarks, and other customizations separate).
Waiting for Netscape 6 to load is this version's worst annoyance by far. On my system, I've been averaging a 15-second delay until the program opens. Internet Explorer, in comparison, loads in 5 to 6 seconds. Once the browser starts up, though, you'll immediately notice how fast Web pages load. In my informal tests, pages loaded about twice as fast as they did in Netscape 4.7.
One of the other things you'll notice first is Netscape's new interface. One addition is a left pane called My Sidebar, which is similar to Internet Explorer 5's Explorer Bar. My Sidebar offers constant access to options (called Tabs) such as Search, What's Related, News, Stocks, Music, AIM Buddy List, and more. You can customize your list and add more tabs by searching from
If the default color scheme and design aren't to your liking, you can choose among different themes ("skins") available on Netscape's site. I downloaded a couple of themes from Netscape's site and found that they were garish and not as user-friendly as the default skin. The old Navigator interface, now called the Classic theme, comes with the installed program. You can revert to it by choosing
While you cannot customize the main toolbar, you can select what appears in the smaller Personal Toolbar that sits right below it. I was able to remove many of the buttons from the menu bars using
The URL box at the top of the browser doubles as a bona fide search tool that uses the Google search engine. A Down arrow to its left lets you narrow down the search options to specific categories, such as shopping, local information, and stock quotes. You can either click a specific category from the drop-down and type in your search or you can look up keywords and type them into the field. The searches are based on keywords such as
Netscape lets those with multiple e-mail accounts gather mail in one central place. Whether you have a POP3 mail account, Web-based e-mail, or AOL, the mail client lets you collect all your mail and sort it into multiple, separate in-boxes.
Power users and beginners alike will love the new cookie-management tool and password manager, which lets you choose to store all your different passwords in case you forget them (the password manager is also password-protected).
Although Netscape 6 is more attractive than its predecessors, the user interface could use refinement. For example, the Home button has been relegated to the secondary Personal Toolbar, a potential problem for people who wish to hide that toolbar. (You can hit
Another grievance: When you visit a site that requires a plug-in, you're sent to a list of plug-ins without a direction as to which plug-in you need to download and install.
This cross-platform release runs on Windows 95 or later, Mac OS, and Linux. It requires 64MB of RAM and at least a 133-MHz Pentium.
Overall, I liked the speed at which pages loaded, but disliked the fact that Netscape takes forever to load, and I especially disliked the user interface. While Netscape 6 sports some great features, you should probably stick with Netscape 4.7 for now.