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Monday, December 4, 2000

Netscape 6 — browser that uses themes

THE Internet browser war has again picked up as the new offering from Netscape, i.e. Netscape 6, has won accolades from industry-watchers and users. The Netscape Corporation, a part of the AOL, has been in the news for its browser since past several months and especially after the launch of Internet Explorer 5.5, the launch of Netscape 6 was eagerly awaited.

The Internet Explorer was not well received among the Net surfers. Netscape had been touting the release of Netscape 6 as a major milestone (and a springboard) for future growth, despite the fact that many analysts and observers long ago gave their verdict in Microsoft’s favour in the so-called browser war. However, with Netscape 6 launch it is different story.


The Netscape Corporation launched its new browser after a gestation period of 32 months. This browser was developed on a new platform, which marks a radical departure from its predecessors because it was rewritten independently of the "legacy" code that formed the basis of Netscape’s Communicator browsers through version 4.76. Besides developing it on a new platform the Netscape Corporation also decided to develop it as an open source model, under which the source codes were being made public. This strategy worked successfully for the company as it attracted a number of volunteers who offered their services and did critical testing and thus helped in the development of this product. This also caused a long gestation period for the version 6 of this browser.

The company had received much criticism for making its source code open and relying on outside developers of their key product. But ultimately it served well for the company. This helped as the outside developers and contributors for this product included some high profile technologists not on AOL’s payroll, such as James Clark, author of the original XML specification.

The Netscape 6 also goes well with the industry standards and for the development of version 6, the company had long cited its commitment to standards support as one of the driving forces behind the new browser and its core rendering engine, which the company claims to be "fully standards-compliant browsing engine." The adherence to the industry standards had been a major bone of contention between the browser makers and their customers.

Web developers, weary of coding different Web sites for each version of every browser, got together two years ago to goad Microsoft and Netscape into creating standards-compliant browsers. The Web Standards Project Group (WaSP) that had been pursuing this matter with the major browser developers also welcomed the launch of Netscape 6. Its changed interface will be a bonanza for the developers and the Web surfers.

Talking of the changed and user-friendly interface, the Netscape 6 has lot to offer as it includes My Sidebar — a space on the left-hand side of the browser where a calendar, instant messaging contact lists, stock quotes and other information remains. Moreover, the Netscape version 6 also adds a search field directly into the browser’s user interface. These additions to the Netscape are quite similar to the Internet Explorer version 5.5, which also has a similar left-hand side window where search queries can be performed. However there are several other features, which though were not present in the earlier versions of the Netscape Communicator yet were a part of the Internet Explorer.

One of the other feature is a password manager that would store the username and password for Web sites rendered by the user, and also a forms manager, which can remember information entered into Web site forms. It’s a great value addition to the Netscape browser as earlier it was missing.

One of unique features of Netscape 6 is the use of themes in the browser. These themes are just like skins, which are available for user-friendly software. These themes will let people customise their Netscape 6 browser by selecting a user interface from a whole database being provided by the Netscape Corporation.

Themes are made possible in part by Extensible User Interface Language or XUL (pronounced "zool"). Netscape designed XUL to let programmers render the browser’s graphical user interface using the browser’s own rendering engine and Web specifications, such as HTML and CSS, rather than traditional computer programming languages such as C. Netscape will launch "Theme Park" on its Web site where people can choose among various themes.

Another great feature of the Netscape is the new cookie manager, which will allow more control in the hands of Net surfers in accepting or rejecting the cookies as it is designed flexible. Cookies are basically small data files that Web sites place on visitors’ computers to keep track of their activities. Earlier, the cookie management has not been user-friendly in any of the browsers as the cookie controls were limited. Enabling all cookies randomly had the risk of exposing a users’ computer to malicious Web sites and disabling cookies use to make it difficult to open Web sites. Though there was middle way also, yet it was inconvenient for the users as giving permission to accept or reject any cookie is really not practical.

As a further improvement in the browser, Netscape 6 also brings all applications of the group together, which includes e-mail, instant messaging and newsgroup message management.

Industry watchers feel that the company would be required to keep pace with the competition and will also have to regularly update its features and also the bug fixes that may arise over a period of time.

— Roli

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