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Lost in Cyberspace

Browser development continues, even if war over

This article was originally published on May 16, 2000 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

The once-vicious browser war between Netscape and Microsoft may have petered out once Netscape was bought by America Online, but the development of browsers continues – and consumers may have more choices than ever before.

In addition to upgrades and new browsers coming on the market, significant advances in the power of the Web itself are on the horizon as the World Wide Web Consortium is approving new standards in Web page design languages. (W3 is an international panel that sets industry standards for the Web.) What this will mean is Web sites and pages that have more animation and sound – and, most importantly, can organize information in a greater variety of ways that take advantage of the power of our computers, letting them do more of the work of retrieving the information we want.

W3 also has its own Web browser, Amaya. It's fairly bare-bones and doesn't have a lot of the features of the commercial browsers, nor could I get it to work through our firewall here at work.

The biggest news may be the latest version of Netscape. There hasn't been a major upgrade to Netscape since AOL bought it, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer has become the de facto industry standard – at least for Windows and Mac users. (Netscape runs on far more platforms than IE, but Windows and Mac comprise the vast majority of computers used to browse the Web.)

Netscape 6 – based on the new Mozilla browser being developed by an open source cooperative – is now available for free download in a beta version.

It is a completely new program, and is not based on earlier versions of Netscape at all. Still, it's easily recognizable as a browser, and the basic elements in all Web browsers since the first graphical browser (Mosaic) remain – the toolbar, the URL window, the main viewing pane.

But the look and feel are completely different from Netscape 4. For starters, the warning and other task windows within Netscape 6 are made to look more like an XWindows, or Unix, environment, than Microsoft Windows. The tool bar has kind of an art deco, iMac look and feel to it, and is even more modern looking than Internet Explorer 5. And the new version of Netscape contains a channels area along the lefthand side similar to that of IE5.

The most significant change for most folks is that the program is a heck of a lot smaller than previous versions of Netscape, which could run up over 14 megs depending on your platform. The betas of both Netscape 6 and Mozilla come in at under 6 megs for Windows, and less than 10 for just about every platform. (IE5 is about 18 megs.) When using a 56k modem to download a browser, size most certainly does matter.

However, by adhering strictly to the international standards for the Web, the programmers of the new versions of Netscape and Mozilla make many pages, or at least certain elements on them, unviewable. Some animated Web pages use JavaScript code (for an example, visit that was written to take advantage of special abilities of earlier versions of IE and Netscape – code that wasn't really part of the W3 Consortium standards. Netscape 6 won't recognize that code, at least in the present beta version, which is likely to annoy both webmasters and users.

It seems more stable, at least on the PII I installed it on, and runs significantly faster (although it takes even longer to load – go figure). Whether it will re-establish Netscape as a serious competitor to Microsoft seems doubtful – especially if they don't fix the JavaScript issue.

Opera Software has a new upgrade of their browser now available in beta version. There is a free trial version available for download, but you have to purchase the browser to continue using it past 30 days. What makes Opera distinctive from other browsers is that it allows multiple browsing windows to be open within the main program window, making it easier to bounce back and forth between sites or conduct multiple searches. (Netscape and Internet Explorer both run a second version of the program when you open a new window, using up more of your available memory.) Opera has lacked support from most browser plugin publishers, meaning a lot multimedia on the Web has been unviewable to Opera users.

NetCaptor isn't really its own browser, but a souped-up (or perhaps Opera-ized) version of Microsoft's IE. NetCaptor adds multiple window capability to IE, similar to that of Opera. Where Netscape 6 and IE5 have their channel lists on the lefthand side, NetCaptor has a combined bookmarks/history list that you can edit and use on the fly. Pretty handy stuff.

NeoPlanet is another package that takes IE and adds all kinds of new features. In NeoPlanet, you have user links and favorites on the lefthand side, shopping and news on the right. It also has a slicker-looking interface than plain IE, more akin to the new Netscape/Mozilla tool bar, and you can customize the look through "skins" – small add-ons that change the borders and toolbars around.

If none of these seems to be what you're looking for in a browser, there's always BrowserWatch with links to dozens of different Web browsers.