Preview version provides many usability enhancements and a strong mail client, and offers a glimpse into Mozilla.
eWEEK Labs saw a lot to like in the first preview of Netscape Communications Corp.s next-generation browser, Netscape 7.0.
The new browser, which became available this week in preview form at www.netscape.com, has useful user interface aids, strong standards support and a much improved mail client. However, there arent a whole lot of new ideas reflected here. In fact, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Microsoft Corp. and Opera Software should consider themselves flattered.
Still, based on eWEEK Labs tests, Netscape 7.0 will be an excellent upgrade, addressing almost all of the deficiencies of previous versions while adding some very welcome new features. And so what if some of the features arent exactly original? After all, Microsofts Internet Explorer and Opera Softwares Opera pretty much started out by "borrowing" ideas from Netscape.
This preview release provides a glimpse into not only the final release of Netscape 7.0, which is due this summer, but also the soon-to-be-released Mozilla 1.0, from which Netscape 7.0 inherits a great deal of its feature set. The Netscape 7.0 Preview Release is available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS and Mac OS X systems.
One of the most obvious new features in Netscape 7.0 is the optional tabbed window interface, which lets users view multiple Web pages in tabbed windows within the browser rather than in separate browser windows.
Opera has had this capability since it first came out, but Netscape (and Mozilla, which also has this feature) has made some interesting additions.
Using Netscape 7.0, we could right-click on a link within a Web page and choose to open it as a tabbed window. Also, if we had several pages open within tabbed windows, we could choose to create a bookmark group.
Another Netscape 7.0 feature that originated in Opera is the Click-to-Search feature. To use this, we simply double-clicked on any word or phrase within a Web page, and then right-clicked on it. This added to the standard right-menu options a new option that let us quickly initiate a search within the search service we had set as default within Netscape.
We also liked the new Download Manager, from which we could quickly view all completed, stopped and in-progress downloads. We could also pause an in-progress download and return to it later. Of course, this will all seem very familiar to Mac users, who have long had a similar download manager.
Version 7.0 finally adds some user interface features that had been lacking only in Netscape browsers. These include a full-screen mode and print preview.
Another nice usability enhancement is the Quick Launch feature for the Windows version of Netscape 7.0. Quick Launch places an icon in the system tray and pre-loads several necessary files. When the icon is clicked, Netscape launches immediately.
One backward step Netscape has taken, at least in the Windows version of the browser, is in the custom install option.
In Netscape 6.0, if a user chooses a custom install, he or she can choose not to install any module except the browser. When we chose a custom install in Netscape 7.0, Netscape mail and Instant Messenger were combinedwhether we wanted both or not.
Mighty good mail
We hope Netscape gets its act together on the Windows side (the Linux version let us pick and choose) because users will be missing out on a pretty good mail client if they dont install it because of the IM piggyback.
When Netscape 6.0 first came out, late in 2000, we gave the mail client poor marks, mainly because it didnt include some core enterprise capabilities, including support for LDAP.
However, Netscape 7.0 looks like it will be an excellent corporate client. In addition to good LDAP support, including support for Secure LDAP, the Netscape 7.0 mail client supports SMIME, shared IMAP folders and offline LDAP, all features mainly used in corporate environments.
The Netscape 7.0 mail client also includes a return receipt capability and a good filter rule creation interface. Another nice new feature is mail notification. If we were in another application, or if we were in Netscape but had the mail client closed, we received a pop-up message, similar to those in instant messaging clients, whenever we received a new mail message.
Speaking of instant messaging, as in Netscape 6.0, the 7.0 Instant Messenger application is heavily integrated with the mail application, letting users see if users are on IM directly from the mail client. Somewhat of a surprise is the inclusion of the ICQ chat client. (We guess it shouldnt be too much of a surprise, since ICQ, like Netscape, is owned by AOL.)
The Custom Labels feature let us define as many as five tasks, or labels, for messages. We could color-code and sort the tasks by label, and the client includes customizable predefined labels, including To Do and Important.
Although the mail client retains all the standard search features for finding specific messages, a new Quick Search feature made it possible to quickly find messages based on sender or subject. As we began typing the search term, Netscape started returning matching results.
In the Netscape 6.0 mail client, it was essentially impossible to export address book content. In this version, however, we could export our address book in the standard LDIF format or in comma- or tab-delimited text.
State of standards
Standards support often is a matter of perspective.
If standards support means "supports standards from an open group such as the World Wide Web Consortium," then Netscape 7.0, which uses the Mozilla Gecko browser engine, has excellent standards support.
On the other hand, if standards support means "coded to work best with Internet Explorer," then Netscapes standards support is somewhat lacking, and some sites will not work properly in Netscape 7.0.
East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.Click the following for a look at some of Netscape 7.0s new features:
Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr Rapoza's current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.