Review: Netscape 6.2

Netscape provides an all-in-one design, but mixes poorly with Mac OS X (April 20th, 2001)

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Product Manufacturer: Netscape Comm. Corp.

Price: Free

The Good

  • Tight integration with on-line services, all-in-one design.

The Bad

  • Slow, non-Aqua interface.

Netscape 6.2 represents the culmination of years of effort by both the open-source Mozilla group and Netscape Communications Corp. While the newly released browser doesn't take advantage of anti-aliasing capabilities like OmniWeb, offer blazing speed like Opera, or the intuitive interface features in Internet Explorer, Netscape 6.2 remains the only mainstream browser to offer built-in messaging capabilities through e-mail and AOL IM.

Borrowing from Microsoft's innovation, Netscape has made its new browser a simple drag and drop installation. However, in order to use Netscape 6.2's functionality, users must endure a lengthy set-up process. The wait is exacerbated by an extremely long launch time - no surprise since Netscape 6.2 is actually composed of five components: Netscape Navigator, Netscape Mail, Netscape Instant Messenger, Netscape Composer, and Netscape Address Book. Oddly, Netscape touts a faster launch time as one of the primary new functions of version 6.2.

While the number of applications being simultaneously activated can at least partially excuse Netscape 6.2's launch time, the general sluggishness of the application is unacceptable. While actual page rendering times are comparable to Internet Explorer, tasks such as hiding the sidebar seem to be coated in molasses.

The non-Aqua interface is not only an inconvenience to most Mac users, but disallows for the interesting zoom effects, enhanced preference panels, and other niceties that have become commonplace in most other Carbon and Cocoa applications. The proprietary interface, however, does allow Netscape to experiment with useful additions such as a small icon set at the bottom of every window that allows any component of the software package to be accessed. It has allowed Netscape to make the browser's interface customizable through various, user-created skins. The company has capitalized on this feature with its on-line "Theme Park" where popular skins are posted.

Netscape also has a non-standard way of handling window organization. Instead of offering a "Window" menu-bar like most other Mac OS X applications, the browser uses a "Tasks" menu-bar, which confusingly offers access to both windows and privacy/security tools, as well as separate Netscape components (Mail, AIM, etc.,). Likewise, Netscape has chosen to keep its preference panel tucked away in the Edit menu, rather than putting it under the application name menu-bar like most other OS X applications.

The AOL Instant Messenger client provided with Netscape 6.2 very closely resembles the standalone OS X release, but offers a more efficient tabbed method for accessing extra information such as stock quotes and news. The mail client functions well, but lacks advanced filtering functionality and formatting options. The mail component does, however, offer a reasonable spell checker. As a bonus for America Online subscribers, Netscape 6.2 offers synchronization with the AOL Address Book.

In the end, Netscape 6.2 seems to bite off more than it can chew. Much like Deneba's Canvas seeks to be a swiss-army knife of digital media tools, so does Netscape aspire to provide all of the Internet functionality the average user will need. While it does succeed in providing a tightly integrated set of decent tools, users looking for more functionality from any of the components would do better to obtain separate applications.

by Ben Wilson


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