Netscape Browser Beta Unveiled

SAN MATEO (08/08/2000) - Netscape Communications posted its Netscape 6 Preview Release 2 (PR2) as a free download on Tuesday, adding more customization, security, and mail features as well as tweaking some of the smaller aspects of the browser to streamline performance and appearance in the beta release.

According to Sol Goldfarb, group product manager for Mountain View, Calif.-based Netscape, a subsidiary of America Online, PR2 brings out the importance of open standards, building on the features in Netscape 6 Preview Release 1 (PR1) first introduced in April. Several new Themes will let users change the browser through different combinations of designs called skins, all of which is built with XUL (XML-based User Interface Language).

"This is not simply changing the color of the user interface; we go deeply into everything, changing the geometry, the buttons, the special effects," Goldfarb explained. Creating a Theme is basically like setting up a more complicated Web page, according to Goldfarb.

In PR2, users can shift from the default Theme, called Modern, to Classic mode, which Goldfarb said is "reminiscent of the Communicator 4.x user interface."

The inclusion of this Classic Theme was in part due to the urgings of some IT managers, who noted that if Netscape 6 had an interface that matched the Communicator 4.x interface, they would not need to re-train employees used to Communicator's current form, Goldfarb said.

Netscape also integrated Netscape Web Mail support into Netscape Mail in PR2, allowing users to access their Web mail accounts via Netscape Mail, as well as group instant messaging chat capabilities.

"We looked at the Web mail solutions on the Internet, and the benefits users find in those is the access to their mail from anywhere, at any time, from any computer," Goldfarb said. "The downside is that they miss the traditional management capabilities in their regular e-mail systems. In PR2, they will have full e-mail management when they're at their [desktop] computers, then when they're on the road they can get e-mail via a browser on any computer."

On the security side, PR2 adds a Password Manager feature, which acts as a centralized repository to keep track of Web site passwords and user names, as well as e-mail passwords. All of these are encrypted behind one "master password," a feature Goldfarb said is especially important in situations where more than one person may be using the same computer at different times.

"It does serve a function like single sign-on in that it can supply passwords back to a site when you revisit it," Goldfarb said. The Password Manager, however, is not specifically a single sign-on solution, he said.

PR2 includes more My Sidebar tabs from partners including Reel.com, MapQuest, HP, and eHow. The tabs are like "skinny Web pages" chosen by a user to immediately access a particular Web site. The main idea in PR2 was to "round out the features set," said Goldfarb, adding that much of the interest he has seen so far around PR1 and Netscape 6 centers around its use of open standards.

"The places where we've had the most excitement and response are around Web standards. People are so excited that Netscape drew a line in the sand and said, 'We're going to offer complete standards support,'" Goldfarb said. "This isn't just from developers, this is also from end-users, because the Web standards affect new applications over the Internet that need to be cross-platform and cross-device."

More features additions and further polishing touches will be made in the third Netscape 6 beta release, which will be released later this fall. PR2 is available as a free download at www.netscape.com/download. The final version of the Netscape 6 browser is expected to emerge before the end of the year.

According to Netscape officials, the final release of Netscape 6 will not be vulnerable to the Java bug Brown Orifice (BO), which was recently discovered in current version of Netscape Navigator. BO allows a Java applet to act as a Web server and access and distribute a user's network files.

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