Netscape 6 Beta Released; Users: Too Little, Too Late

Some say browser wars over, and IE wins

Netscape Communications Corp. last week made available a preview version of its long-awaited browser upgrade. But users said Netscape 6 may be too little too late.

Netscape 6 will be powered by the open-source Gecko browser engine. It will offer faster performance on desktop PCs and can be adapted to several other Internet devices and computing platforms, including Linux, Mac OS and Windows, company officials said.

"The reason it's taken time to develop Netscape 6 is because we've built a better browser," said Eric Krock, a senior product manager at the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.

In 1998, Netscape scrapped plans to develop an incremental version of its browser and instead rewrote the entire program to implement open Web standards, including HTML 4.0, XML and JavaScript 1.5, he said.

Netscape 6 will also include features that allow users to customize the look and feel of their browsers and add tabs for constant, easy access to Internet content providers.

Despite the advancements, users don't see the new browser making waves. "I really think the browser wars are over," said Bob Offutt, a vice president at Sabre Labs, the information technology arm of Sabre Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas.

Even if Netscape's browser brings improved support for standards, "you have to design to the lowest common denominator" in Microsoft's and Netscape's browsers," since end users don't always upgrade immediately to the new version, Offutt said.

Although the browser "may come off as no big deal today," it could have long-term significance, according to Scott Hebner, director of electronic-business technology at IBM. If developers move more toward integrating browsers into their applications, Netscape could be reinvigorated, he said.

Pamela Drew, lead technical designer at First Union National Bank in Richmond, Va., said she would most like to see Netscape's and Microsoft's browsers become more compatible with each other in terms of standards and features support. Then her company's Web developers would no longer have to write two sets of code.

"We had to go through the whole browser detection scheme: If they're running Netscape, use this; if they're running Internet Explorer, use this," Drew said. "For the public sites, we end up having to go back and debug things for different browser versions." She said the situation has been improving, "but it's still not there yet, and it just makes it difficult for those of us who have to write for them."

Netscape, owned by America Online Inc., will release two more betas of the browser before it releases a final version by the end of this year, Krock said. Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.5 also is in beta now.

Dulles, Va.-based AOL last week also unveiled a series of Internet appliances designed in cooperation with Gateway Inc. in North Sioux City, S.D., that will adapt the Gecko browser. The appliances will allow users to access "Instant AOL" - a slimmed-down version of the AOL software - and the Internet throughout their homes via wireless devices that feed off a central hub, much like a cordless phone does.

The first of the devices, a countertop or under-the-cabinet flat-screen system, will be available by year's end, according to the company. Staff writer Carol Sliwa contributed to this story.


Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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