Article by Kevin Savetz

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Copyright © by Kevin Savetz

Version 4 of Netscape's web browser is here. Netscape would have you believe that 4's new features are what makes this a necessary upgrade. Indeed, its new HTML tricks and interface enhancements are welcome improvements, but they aren't the main reasons that every Netscape user will want to switch to version 4.

Less is More

If you've already upgraded Navigator a few times -- say, from version 2 to 3 (or even 1 to 2), you've probably noticed a couple of trends. As Netscape piles on the features, the program keeps getting bigger. To make matters worse, Navigator wasn't winning any awards for stability -- crashes were an all-too-common phenomenon.

It turns out that the Navigator 4's best feature isn't something that it does, but something it doesn't do: crash. After weeks of pounding on it, I am happy to report that this puppy is stable. Reason enough to upgrade. But wait, there's more.

Netscape also solved the bloatware issue with aplomb: by giving users both less and more. The company now offers two browser products: Netscape Communicator, a huge suite that includes an e-mail client, newsgroup reader, collaboration tools, calendar, Internet telephony, HTML editor and an on-call plumber for its built-in kitchen sink. The other choice is the relatively svelte Navigator, which is simply a Web browser without the extra baggage. Navigator is a one-trick pony, while Communicator includes more gadgets than a Swiss army knife. You can choose the tool that works like you want, a stand-alone browser or a one-stop-shop suite of tools.

Going 4th

Navigator (and Communicator too -- all the features I'll talk about from here on out are available with both programs) has several other tricks up its sleeve. Netscape continues to push the envelope of Web design by incorporating several new standards, including cascading style sheets, HTML positioning and layering, and improved font control.

HTML positioning and layering gives web site creators precise control over the layout of the elements on their web pages, even allowing them to overlap items (HTML text can appear on top of an image, for example). The addition of dynamic fonts gives even more layout control to designers, providing the ability to use any conceivable font on a web page. If you don't have a necessary font on your computer, Navigator will temporarily download a copy to assure that the page looks perfect.

Cascading style sheets let webmasters create templates on which they can build web pages. When it is time to change the look of the site, modifying the template is all that's necessary to change the look of all the pages built with it.

The program's interface has been thoughtfully tuned since version 3. The bookmarks interface is more powerful than before (although it's a little better in the Windows version than on the Mac, one of the few inconsistencies between platforms) and the toolbars enjoy a variety of improvements. (See The Navigation Toolbar and You for more on that.)

Navigator 4 makes life a little easier with the addition of AutoInstall, an optional feature that will download and install browser plug-ins on demand. If you happen upon a web page that needs a certain plug-on, Netscape will offer to retrieve and use it. This may sound ominous to the paranoid among us -- but the program lets you make the final decision after verifying the source of the plug-in. If you don't trust the plug-in you can opt out. Finally, how many times have you started a download, only to have your connection die before it completed? Netscape 4 includes the ability to restart a download where it left off, when talking to a compatible server. Hooray.

Here's the bottom line: Navigator (or Communicator, pick your poison) is an essential upgrade. Go 4 it.

Articles by Kevin Savetz