Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Hot on the Web

The return of Netscape

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on June 10, 2005
(Issue 2323, Small Business to Grow)

It was almost startling, seeing the headline on "Netscape issues new browser." But when I headed over to (one of the oldest sites on the Web, by the by), there it was: Netscape 8.

Not yet out for Mac or Linux, Netscape 8 is – at first blush – far and away the best Web browser for Windows users.

The interface is polished and intuitive; the options useful and concise. Not a piece of bloatware, Netscape 8 is instead a careful distillation of what we all do online.

Based on Firefox – and IE

Where Netscape 6 provided the impetus for the open-source Mozilla community (which developed Mozilla 1 and Netscape 6 simultaneously on a shared engine), Netscape 8 is based on the Mozilla project's new Firefox browser (which is, itself, based on the Mozilla-brand browser). All of them, of course, share a code heritage with the original Mosaic browser that gave birth to both the Netscape v. 1-4 browser and Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

But IE began straying from otherwise universal standards almost as soon as Microsoft got into the browser biz. Thus, some sites have bells and whistles that only work properly in IE, and not in Mozilla-based browsers or Opera.

And so Netscape 8 now includes an option that when it comes to a site using non-standard, IE-oriented tags, it can display those pages for you with the IE rendering engine instead of Firefox – useful if you want to use Netscape as your main browser, but need to access information or upgrades from Microsoft's own site..

Secure from the ground up

It's clear that Netscape 8 was designed from the get-go to be security-oriented – to give the end user as much control as possible over protecting their privacy while online.

The Tools>Options menu gives the user far more control over how the browser interacts with Web servers than any other browser I've seen (although I've not used Opera's latest version yet). From flushing all traces of your browsing session to fine-tuning how you treat each site, the options here are powerful, easy to understand and likely to set the new standard for browsers.

With version 8, Netscape now offers a Site Controls menu very similar to IE's security zone settings – so you can lower your guard for sites you trust while still protecting yourself from other sites.

And the pop-up window blocker even blocks pop-ups on Netscape's own home page! Previous versions of Netscape allowed Netscape and AOL Web sites to display pop-ups, by default (although you could manually remove those domains from your exceptions list).

Minor annoyances

There are some features that I frankly don't like. For instance, when you open a new viewing tab in Netscape 8 – unlike in 6 or 7, or even Firefox – rather than a blank screen, you get a copy of whatever tab you were previous viewing. IE does that when you open a new window. I hate it. Fortunately, the Tools>Options menu in the pulldown bar allows you to change that to a blank panel in the Tab Browsing section.

Also, whenever you're signing into a secure site – your Webmail account, say, or eBay or – there doesn't seem to be a way to simply say "No" to saving the password. You either create a new one, add a second password on your PC to protect that Web password, or say no forever to that site. Mozilla, Firefox and previous versions of Netscape all allow you to simply say "No" to saving the password that one time.

My problem with this is if you're using a public PC - at the library, say, or school – you certainly don't want to save the password to that computer, with or without a "master password." And you might not want to add that site to the "Don't ask anymore" list, either - because that list is stored on the computer's hard drive.

With the previous, simple "No" response when prompted if you wanted to save a password, you left no tracks. Under Netscape 8, you can set your privacy settings to clear all tracks when you close the program - but that deletes any passwords you might want to save.

You can, again using the Tools>Options menu on the pull-down bar, manually delete the sites in the "Sites Never Saved" list, but how much easier if there was an option to not have to choose between saving the password or adding it to that list?

Such tiny complaints, though, for what is the cleanest, easiest to use and best-designed Web browser yet devised.