Netscape Navigator 9 beta 1 review

Once upon a time, Netscape Navigator ruled the web: before 1997, it was virtually synonymous with browsers. But then Microsoft stole the market share away with Internet Explorer, eventually nailing the Netscape coffin lid down tight.

Or so we thought.

AOL bought Netscape in 1998, and until now it’s done very little with the once-dominant browser. Recently, however, it hired a new team of developers and it’s now ready to release this Navigator 9 beta. It may have been overshadowed by Apple’s near-simultaneous release of Safari for Windows, but in many ways Netscape’s offering is actually superior.

Anyone who’s ever used Firefox will feel immediately at home, because Netscape has ditched support for the Internet Explorer ‘Trident’ page-rendering engine and instead turned to the Gecko one that also drives Firefox. This means you get the same across the board standards-compliance, the same compatibility with most modern web pages, and the same support for Firefox 2 extensions. And there are a lot of extensions out there for Firefox, broadening the functionality of Navigator beyond its basic incarnation.

What it didn’t do was pick up an existing Firefox bookmarks file on our test system, offering only to import the IE and Opera ones it found. But that Gecko support does mean you get broadly similar performance to Firefox: our page-rendering test took 5.26 seconds (compared to 7.09 seconds for IE7), and memory usage was the lowest we saw at 25,268KB. Both highly commendable results.

In an attempt to distance itself from the inevitable Firefox-by-another-name accusations, Netscape has tuned into the social aspect of web browsing and added a bunch of related features. One is an integrated tool that enables you to vote for news stories and blog postings, and the ability to post stories directly to – but of course this is only really of any value to users of that particular social-bookmarking service.

Other features also require this Netscape tie-in, such as the Friends’ Activity Sidebar; this shows when your contacts post a new story. Even the news subscriptions delivery is tied to Netscape news only. Thankfully there is some innovation without the incestuous intent. The ‘Link Pad’ lets you quickly drop links into the sidebar for later viewing, while the automatic URL correction for dealing with common misspellings and mistakes (googlecom becomes is very neat. As is the ability to resize text areas on web pages to increase typing space.

But that, it has to be said, is it. Why anyone other than already committed user of services would be tempted to use Navigator 9 instead of Firefox is, frankly, beyond us.

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