Today, Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) owns close to 80% of the Web browser market compared to about 20% for Netscape. Five years ago, this figure was just the opposite. Seems as though Microsoft went slightly unchecked in their quest to become the 800-lb gorilla.

A long time ago my favorite browser was Netscape Navigator 3.0; after that, the franchise went south. Later versions of Netscape took forever to load and were very bug-prone. Why new versions performed worse is hard to pinpoint. I have a strong inclination to believe that Microsoft was engineering Windows to cause problems with the Netscape browser, however, this is not an incontrovertible fact.

Netscape’s quick pace of software development to keep up with each new version of Microsoft IE also inevitably caused the general public to be beta testers whether they knew it or not. I had, in fact, pretty much given up on Netscape as of version 4.73, only using it when IE was not working with certain pages.

Just recently, however, after strategically skipping version 5.0, Netscape released version 6.0. The premise being that since 6.0 is greater than 5.5, many will think that Netscape works better. Whatever.

Netscape 6.0

I installed Netscape 6.0 on a PC running Windows 98, P-II 350mhz, 128mb RAM. Once the download and install were completed (which took about 2 hours using a 56k modem), I launched the browser and was immediately impressed with what I saw. Netscape has broken away from the traditional look of web browsers with 6.0. A definite attempt has been made to turn the browser itself into a web page portal. Rather than going to Yahoo or AOL as your starting point on the Internet, Netscape has incorporated many of the features you find on these sites right into the browser itself. However, this new appearance did limit my ability to view Web pages by shrinking the default viewing area typically provided for this function.

Needless to say, I was slightly peeved. In short, Netscape Navigator 6.0 looks better in some ways but it has all of the same problems that 4.73 had as far as lack of extensive bookmark control and autocomplete functions. On top of all that, Netscape still does not function well with Java. It just doesn’t like it and therefore wasn’t much fun to browse with. This incompatibility also caused me to “crash” a number of times, which is not good. Nevertheless, without far more added features, version 6.0 of Netscape is not going to make the needed impact, and Netscape is going to continue to be in serious trouble as far as their dwindling share of the browser market.



Internet Explorer 5.5

In general, IE 5.5 is a fairly pleasant experience, and it loads faster then Netscape. IE also has many automatic features, like remembering URL’s, passwords, form text, and automatically adding or completing those entries for you, a feature called Autocomplete. IE also has far superior bookmarking functions allowing you to create new folders on the fly when you bookmark Web pages. Netscape forces you to create bookmark folders ahead of time or after the fact by going to the edit bookmark screen. This is a huge inconvenience and basically forces me to use IE most of the time since organized bookmarking is essential to me.

Users won’t notice much difference over IE 5.0 except that they may find that visiting Web pages that used to give their browser a tough time will now have little problem. That’s because 5.5 has been developed with emerging Web authoring software in mind. Many advances in dhtmhl, vml, xtml, and the old standby html have been made and do much to improve speed and finesse online. In the past, browsers had been limited in their capacity to handle this information. Most of the time the fancy scripting was just ignored by the browser and the page was plainly loaded. Now, most pages will come alive with their true content design intact when using 5.5. IE 5.5 is nothing radically new, it just improves the stability and performance of what was already a stable browser.



Summary

Once again, IE has outshone Netscape. It kind of makes sense now to see that even though AOL bought Netscape, AOL still uses IE as the browser they distribute to their customers. Thus, the question that begs to be answered is why did AOL buy Netscape to begin with? Hopefully, if Netscape can’t get their act together, some other company will step up, because there needs to be competition for IE. Everyone knows what happens when Microsoft is left unchecked. But that’s for another time, perhaps. No matter which browser is ultimately better, you still need both because inevitably there will be sites that will only work on one or the other, and I can’t see this ever changing in the near future, Microsoft monopoly or not. To download Netscape 6.0 for free, go to www.netscape.com. To download IE 5.5 for free, go to www.microsoft.com. ES