Before Netscape.com turned into a social voting website (read: Digg clone), before Firefox graduated from the Mozilla Application Suite and became the darling of net geeks and casual surfers alike, before Internet Explorer emerged victorious from the First Browser War using the classic Microsoft tactic, and before people understood the value of a web browser, there was Netscape.
It was actually called the Mosaic Netscape browser then, since the company started out as the Mosaic Communications Corporation. Netscape—both the company and the browser—has gone through ups and downs but today it stands tall, having released version 9 of the classic browser this June 5th.
Here are some highlights of the latest version of Netscape Navigator:
Firefox-like, but still a Netscape Navigator. Netscape is using the Firefox engine these days—or is it the other way around? Either way, Netscape looks a lot like Firefox: from the menus, to the tabs, to the dialogs (the Download Manager still saves to the Desktop by default!). It’s even compatible with Firefox 2.0 add-ons! But that’s not to say it’s a boring old clone. That distinct shade of gray accompanied by dull blue-gray buttons is very characteristic of Netscape (it’s available as a theme, too). On the whole, the browser is a lot more compact. Then there’s the obligatory “N” logo and the throbber, which when clicked brings one to the Netscape homepage.
URL Correction. Netscape tries to fix common mistakes and possibly thwart phishing when typing a misspelled URL into the address bar (e.g., .cm, htp://, netscapecom, netscape,com). I say tries because first, using Ctrl+Enter, Shift+Enter, and Ctrl+Shift+Enter after typing in the domain keyword (e.g. Google) gives you Google.com, Google.net, and Google.org instantly. Second, you don’t really need to type in http:// if you’re only going to browse. Nobody really uses ftp:// or feed:// in an address bar. Then again, some hyperlinks are improperly formatted, so it’s a good thing Netscape can now watch out for those.
Social Voting. What better way to promote the social voting of Netscape.com than to integrate it into its own browser? If the webpage you’re currently on hasn’t been submitted to Netscape.com then a “Share” button appears beside the URL. If it has, buttons for voting (up/down) and commenting on the story appear instead.
Link Pad. De-clutter your bookmarks by dragging links you want to check out later to the Link Pad. Click on the bottom-left corner of the browser window to bring it up, or simply drag your link over there.
News. Netscape reinforces the Firefox Live Bookmarks by creating its own News menu and filling it with lots more live news links from various categories. (Check out the News Options for even more.) It’s not quite the feed reader we hoped for, but it should be good training for those who aren’t familiar with RSS.
Sidebar. Use any of the available sidebars for maximum multi-tasking goodness. Bookmarks, History, Link Pad, Mini Browser, and three more for Netscape.com functions.
Resizable Textareas. A treat for anyone who types too much!
So right now, we have a bunch of competing browsers using the same basic engine: Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Seamonkey, Flock, and Netscape Navigator. The differences are subtle in the eyes of a typical user. For the heavy-duty surfer, it will depend mostly on the add-ons. It will be difficult for Netscape to stand out from the rest. The good news is it’ll be much easier to use and tweak. (Don’t you wish you could use your user profile(s)/add-ons across all these browsers so you didn’t have to do it over and over again?)
The arrival of Netscape 9 tells us the company is raring to take back the web—wait, that slogan belongs to Firefox—and a piece of the browser market pie. Since we’re having a very lively competition amongst social networks and other types of web applications, we might as well have a browser free-for-all, too, right?
Personally, I’d rather see these browser developers teaming up to build a mind-blowing browser that’ll render Internet Exploder obsolete. It’s not quite possible right now—though it seems Firefox 3 will be a very exciting release—so my realistic wish is for the dreaded memory leak to finally disappear.
Netscape works with either, Windows, OSX, or Linux. You can download the latest version (beta) at the Netscape Browser homepage.