THE TROUBLED online giant known as AOL that had once lost its soul and sold it to the Evil Empire, finally got its act together and realized they still had the weapons to fight the Vole. The company has hence released version 7.2 of its Netscape Browser, based on the Mozilla Foundation's latest version (1.7.2) of the "Mozilla Browser Suite". The Browser Suite -which includes an e-mail client- is available for Windows, Mac OS-X, and Linux.
Not just bug fixes and re-branding
AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein was quoted on eWeek some weeks ago saying "The 7.2 upgrade is more of an iterative upgrade, and it fixes security issues. It is based on the Mozilla core, so there are not a lot of additive features". Do I sense some lack of enthusiasm?. Perhaps he's trying not to upset the quiet whispering Ballmer juggernaut. Who knows...
Besides the usual additions present in Netscape compared to Mozilla -like the integrated AIM and ICQ client built into the browser's sidebar- there is a new feature in Netscape: AOL hired the "Mozdev Group" to create a Mozilla implementation of its new "Netscape Toolbar", which mimics the functionality of the "Netscape toolbar for IE", that lets you keep a history of previous searches and places several Netscape.com portal destinations within easy reach. Instead of being coded as a dangerous Active-X component like its IE counterpart, the one included in NS 7.2 is a native Mozilla XUL extension, delivered as a XPI. Or course, if you don't like it, you can always hide it by clicking on View -> Show/Hide -> Netscape Toolbar.
One has to wonder who is softly-spoken Mr. Weinstein working for, Microsoft's IE team, or AOL. Because I found Netscape 7.2 to be a worthy upgrade, yes even as an upgrade from Mozilla.org's suite and for IE users as well. The company has done a great effort, first, they re-hired some of the previously laid off staff to create a build based on the Mozilla Browser Suite 1.7. Then, by early August, when everything was ready for release, Mozilla.org surprised everyone with maintenance releases 1.7.1 first and 1.7.2 later. Instead of shipping a Netscape 7.2 based on the early 1.7 version they did the right thing and started again, this time using Mozilla 1.7.2 as the base. The result is the NS 7.2 browser that you see today, available as a free download, and also for sale on CD, with or without a printed user's manual ("Guidebook" in AOLspeak).
Most stable Netscape ever
This version is what Netscape 6.0 should have been. I have been using different iterations of NS 7.2 for over a month, both as my primary browser and e-mail client on my notebook that runs WinXP home. Removing MS-Lookout! ^R^R^R^R^R^R Outlook is a safe security precaution that I take on all windows systems that I own. I started with a leaked "Release Candidate" build whose installer showed up in my e-mail inbox :), and now I'm running the "gold" release. I found it to be the most stable Netscape ever, not even crashing once, and I was able for the first time to have dozens of open browser windows, each with six or more web pages loaded, and the browser just kept going like the Energizer bunny, not even slowing down, and without restarting the browser in over 3 weeks.
To be fair, I admit they made a stupid mistake by continuing to package Java2 1.4.0 in the full "off-line installer", instead of more recent build (Sun's latest at the time of this writing is 1.4.2-05). I tried to tell people at Sun about this impending release so they could hopefully convince AOL's management to package the latest and small "active installer" for Java, but my efforts fell on deaf ears. However you can get around this by selecting "Custom Install" and removing the check mark from "sun's java 2", then installing the latest greatest Java from Sun yourself, from here). Another must-have third party plug-in is the Flash click-to-load extension. And remember that you can always load a Google search and the INQ headlines on the browser's sidebar here.
I congratulate the small team at the Netscape remnants for delivering such a quality product, and the management for realizing that they could still keep up the fight with the Vole and take advantage of the never ending flood of MSIE security bugs, to lure users to a safer alternative that still has wide brand recognition and is based on an open source core. µ
The "Save Netscape" petition that started it all
Download Netscape 7.2
Order NS 7.2 on CD, and/or the printed Guidebook
Mozilla 1.7 reviewed: A role model in the fight against browser anorexia
Download the latest Java plug-in from Sun
Or get the latest Java on CD, for free
Sun StarOffice 7 pre-loaded in AOL PCs
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