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TECHNOLOGY

Netscape Browser Isn't All That New

Internet: Version 7.0 fixes the bugs of the previous one but mostly showcases its connection to AOL Time Warner and its subsidiaries.

June 03, 2002|MATTHEW FORDAHL | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Long after Microsoft's Internet Explorer won the browser wars, AOL's Netscape Communications division is launching another volley in its battle to stay relevant.

Netscape 7, now available for downloading as a preview release, is more defensive than offensive: It fixes the bugs and improves on the speed of its predecessor while adding features others already have.

That's not to say that Netscape has nothing new to offer. Like no other browser can, it closely integrates services and content from the AOL Time Warner conglomerate, including instant messaging, music and news.

But ultimately, a browser is just a browser.

You download pages, click on links and look at pages. It's good if it doesn't crash. Better still if it makes Net surfing at least seem faster. Better yet if it doesn't attract worms like a dog does fleas.

Browsers are now evolving like word processors. New releases are greeted with more yawns than cheers as developers pile on more mostly unused bells and whistles.

That's a far cry from the mid-1990s, when users eagerly awaited the next release of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. Back then, basic functionality was still being defined and refined.

Now, users have a good idea of what to expect.

Microsoft--legally or illegally--built its browser into its operating system, and most users find that it works well enough.

And after America Online bought Netscape in 1998, the company seemed to give up as the flagship AOL service continued to use Internet Explorer.

Now, Netscape has about 7% of the browser market, compared with Explorer's 91% share, according to WebSideStory's StatMarket, a research firm.

The Netscape 7.0 preview, a free download that works on Windows, Mac and Linux systems, looks like version 6.0 but fixes bugs, starts faster and renders pages more accurately than its predecessor. A final version is expected this summer.

The browser window is very clean, though it can quickly fill up screen real estate with tabs and other features.

A "Sidebar" column, which fills up a bit less than a quarter of the browser screen, contains tabs for news, shopping, movies and music, bookmarks, maps, directions and buddy lists. Many of those features can be found on many Web portals, including Yahoo. There is some convenience in having it readily available, but for the most part it's about selling AOL Time Warner or its partners.

Netscape 7.0 also incorporates AOL Instant Messenger for real-time chat.

And it borrows heavily from other players in the browser world: A new download manager is basically a list of downloads in progress. Users of Internet Explorer for the Mac will be familiar with this.

The mail program runs like any other. It does make searching for specific messages faster by using "Quick Search" fields.

New-mail notification also is improved. When a message is received, a small window pops up in the lower right corner of the screen, just like Microsoft's Windows Messenger alerts.

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