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Hot on the Web

Yet another browser

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 24, 2007
(Issue 2534, Freelancing vs. Telecommuting)

With Mozilla now supporting the SeaMonkey browser, Windows users today have more Web browsers than ever to choose from. Opera, Netscape, Firefox, IE, Safari and SeaMonkey – that's a full half-dozen front-line browsers, every one of them free.

Not since the early days of the World Wide Web have we had so many browsers from which to choose. Even Mac users have a solid handful: All the above, except IE – which is balanced by Camino, a Mac-only browser from Mozilla. And Linux users have access to Opera, Netscape, Firefox, SeaMonkey and a couple of Linux-only browsers (Konquerer and Epiphany).

What's interesting is that even as the number of browsers multiplies like never before, the differences between them seem less significant than ever.

SeaMonkey features

SeaMonkey uses the old Netscape Navigator icon of the ship's wheel as its icon – hearkening back to the early roots of the 'Net as a place of idealism rather than profit.

But SeaMonkey is also probably the least polished of the major browsers – that icon seems to be representative of the relative lack of sophistication of SeaMonkey.

The rough edges of SeaMonkey start with the user interface – it seems to be drawn from the old Netscape Navigator 4.x look and feel. It's blocky and square and not at all modern.

The rendering engine is certainly more up to date than Netscape 4.x, although it's not quite as solid as current builds of Netscape, Opera, Firefox, IE or Safari. Complex pages with dynamic content tend to display oddly in SeaMonkey. Not all of them, mind you – but enough that you notice.

Enough so that you're unlikely to make SeaMonkey your primary browser.


Then again, SeaMonkey is only in version 1.1.3 as this is written.

Mozilla issues

Interestingly, the Mozilla Web page for SeaMonkey says that the Mozilla Corp. is dropping support for the Thunderbird news reader / e-mail client to focus solely on the Firefox browser. One wonders what the future of the Mozilla open-source Internet utility community is. Will the volunteers who make the Mozilla software – SeaMonkey and Eudora and Thunderbird – be able to stay organized without the full-time staff of the for-profit corporation available to help out?

Browsers and the future of the Web

But SeaMonkey isn't much more advanced than the browsers of five years ago.

In fact, the entire Web is in a period of technological doldrums right now – efforts to advance HTML standards that once seemed so urgent no longer have much steam behind them. Plug-in technologies such as Flash and Java have provided enough oomph to allow Web designers to bypass the many deficiencies of HTML itself.

It may not be ideal, but it seems that, for now, it's good enough for most folks.

Without any new features per se to add on to browsers (much as happened when the major issue facing office suites like WordPerfect and Microsoft Office became feature bloat a few years back), browsers have to find new users by doing old things better.

But all the major browsers now have most of the same features. Web browsing. Tabbed displays for having multiple Web sites open in one main window. RSS newsfeed support. Flash and Java support.

What sets the current generation of browsers apart is really the look and feel of the user interface – how the menus are displayed.

It's not much on which to hang a business model.

And yet, Netscape has recently issued version 9 of its veteran browser. Now based on Firefox code, Netscape Navigator (yes, the Navigator name is back!) 9 is as polished as SeaMonkey is rough.

Still a free download, Netscape 9 seamlessly imports all the Netscape 8 browser settings – although it doesn't override or delete the Netscape 8 files for you. A bit of a pain doing that manually.

While the Netscape home page says Firefox 2 skins should work fine, in fact they don't. I didn't try any other plugins yet, so I can't vouch for those – but the skins not working isn't a good thing.

And the integrated manner in which Netscape 8 handled passwords is gone, replaced by Firefox 2's rather inelegant method.

Keeping watch

While the venerable BrowserWatch web site which once tracked all the different iterations of the different browsers is gone, the Alternative Browser Alliance tracks all Web browsers not named Internet Explorer – including a few specialty browsers not listed above. It's up to date, seems to be comprehensive and easy to use.

Everything, in short, that Browser Watch used to be.