November 13, 2001

Netscape 6.2: This one works

Author: JT Smith

- by Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
I have had experiences with Mozilla and earlier versions of Netscape that, to put it kindly,
were less than satisfactory. As someone who works online all day, a browser is
my single most important piece of software, and browsers have been my biggest
disappointment in Linux. Now I'm using Netscape 6.2 and, for the first time in
years, I am happy with the browser on my screen.First, let me explain that I am a big-time software luddite. I got dragged into
graphical computing (from DOS to Windows) only when it became impossible to view many
useful Web pages in Lynx and other text-only browsers. I was happy with DOS and
it was happy with me. But as my writing appeared online more and more, and the
WWW became a more and more useful research tool, I had to modernize. I replaced
my old 286 with a (used) 386 and started running Windows 3.1 and Netscape 2. I
got cute pictures online, yes I did, and I loved them. The idea of just pointing
and clicking to move around not only the Internet but also my local hard drive
was also very nice. I liked this a lot more than typing text commands every time
I wanted to open a Web page or a piece of software.

But in return for a cuted-up Web and easier computer use in general, I had to
accept the fact that now and then my computer would suddenly stop working for no
apparent reason. I found this irritating, and since this seemed to happen more
often than not when I was writing on a tight deadline, it was often costly. The
money I spent on Windows was nothing compared to the money and time I lost from
Windows crashes. This was what started me on the quest for a non-crashing
operating system that led me to Linux.

But Netscape, at that point the only "full-featured" graphical browser for Linux, still
crashed frequently -- and this forced me to type text commands to shut it down
and restart it. Yech. Two steps forward, one step back. Or I could take two steps back and use Lynx; I still had a shell account and used Pine for all my email back then, so it wouldn't have been a big deal for me if all those nasty Web designers hadn't insisted on making more and more sites that only worked really well in a graphical browser.

At one point I thought about giving up on Linux and using Windows plus Explorer. But Explorer, at that point, was even worse than Netscape on the reliability front, and then I would have had Windows crashes to contend with along with browser failures. Double yech. So I clenched my teeth, stuck with Linux, and watched everything about Linux get smoother and easier for ordinary desktop users like me.

Except the browser.

Yes, Opera is wonderful and Konqueror is coming along nicely, and I am happy to see both of them working to provide alternatives to AOL/Netscape and Microsoft. But I rather preferred Netscape's display style, and had gradually gotten accustomed to having my Web browsing and email all tied up in one neat package, especially after my original ISP got sold and my shell account disappeared.

Except for the crashes, I was basically satisfied with Netscape. What I really wanted in a browser was Netscape -- only better. I tried a couple of Mozilla builds. Crashville. "Don't worry, the next one will be better," I heard over and over, but I still got more crashes and problems than I got with (by then) Netscape 4.7X. Eventually I gave up and mentally told Mozilla, "I'm 49 and in poor health, and I'd like something that might work in my lifetime, so I'll see you later."

Netscape 6.0 came out. I tried it. After I went and got some breakfast it had finally loaded. I called up a Web page, got a coffee refill, and finally saw that page on my screen. Yes, I'm exaggerating here, but not by a whole lot. Netscape 6.0 was amazingly, painfully slow, while Explorer had become reasonably quick and reliable. Was I going to be forced to run Windows through VMWare so I could use Explorer? Was that the only way I could both run Linux and have a decent Web-browsing experience? Triple yech.

My attitude toward Netscape 6.1 was "watch and wait." My wife downloaded and tried the Mac version. She was not impressed. Other people I knew tried the Windows and Linux versions and told me it was better than 6.0, but not quite "there" yet.

Then came Netscape 6.2. And last week, in a frenzy of stupidity, I managed to wipe out my /home partition during an ill-advised attempt at a system upgrade. (Don't ask me what I did; it's too humiliating to talk about in public.) It seemed like as good a time as any to try Netscape's latest. I certainly wasn't going to lose any data, was I? And I was too depressed by my stupidity to do any real writing, and needed to do something to work myself out of my funk.

Surprise! Netscape 6.2 installed nicely, loaded rapidly, accepted my favorite plugins smoothly (including Crossover with Quicktime and Shockwave), and popped Web pages up on my screen more rapidly than any browser since Lynx. I have seen fewer page rendering glitches than I got in 4.78. And best of all (knock on plastic), it hasn't crashed on me yet. Not once. Not even after looking at a whole bunch of pages in a row full of badly-written Javascript, an action that killed Netscape 4.78 pretty regularly.

It took me a little time to get used to the new mailbox features, but the time was worth it. Netscape 6.2 gives me more flexibility than any other email program I've used in the past, in any operating system.

I think we have a winner here. I haven't tried the Windows or Mac versions, but if Netscape 6.2 runs as smoothly in those operating systems as it does in Linux, and if AOL/Netscape promotes 6.2 correctly, perhaps even makes it the default browser for AOL (as they should; it's plenty good enough), we may yet witness the end of Microsoft's Web browser domination.


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