Communicator 4.5: Finally stable
After months of public testing, Netscape releases what the company says is its most reliable browser ever. (We've heard that one before). With arched eyebrow, we gave it a look.
October 20, 1998
by Paul Heltzel
(IDG) -- With the final release of Communicator 4.5, Netscape Communications offers a fast, powerful -- and remarkably reliable -- tool for browsing the Web. The browser suite, which includes messaging and Web page creation tools in addition to its much-hyped integration with Netcenter, is available now for download.
For months we've been advising you to stick with the Communicator 4.0x or Internet Explorer 4, simply because the latest available Communicator simply wasn't stable. Certainly no one will be surprised to learn that early betas of Communicator were buggy.
Communicator began to shape up with the second beta of 4.5. The interface was feature complete, and according to Netscape, crashed much less frequently due to a built-in feedback agent that automatically sends bug reports to the company for analysis. Casual use appeared to support this claim, and the agent is included in the final release.
"[The feedback agent] cuts down the time it takes to reproduce problems," says Micki Seibel, Communicator product manager. "Instead of days or weeks, we can reproduce them immediately. And it's vastly increased the amount of data we receive from users, which has increased the quality of the browser."
New and improved -- really
Seibel says the enhancements made to the browser since the last beta will mostly be transparent to the casual user. But the prerelease version I reviewed does one thing particularly well: It loads pages quickly.
In addition, Smart Browsing features continue to improve. Primarily this is because they are provided by a Netcenter database that can be refined without requiring you to download updated versions of the browser. We've reported on these features since the first beta of Communicator 4.5. For more information on Smart Browsing keyword searches, content filtering, and the ability to find pages related to the ones your viewing, see the "Netscape Posts Communicator 4.5 Beta Today" and "Netscape Stabilizes Browser" links at right. Incremental Smart Browsing improvements you'll notice include the ability to pick up some common typos entered into the Address box, including the unlikely example of turning "micorsoft" into "www.microsoft.com."
Netscape looks to enhance multimedia capabilities in this release by bundling several multimedia tools in the base install. Integrated plug-ins now include RealNetworks RealPlayer 5.0, Macromedia Flash, and Headspace Beatnik for listening to music and other audio files. A base install now takes up 16MB of hard disk space; a complete installation, which includes enterprise calendaring features, requires 26 MB of free space.
On my desktop, both Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer work and play nicely together. I jump back and forth, mainly because I prefer Internet Explorer's integrated search feature and its ability to launch a new window by shift-clicking (both browsers let you do this by right-clicking a link and choosing Open in New Window from a pop-up menu). Also, Communicator still can't check e-mail across multiple POP3 accounts at one time.
But if you prefer Navigator's look and feel, now is the time to download a great browser.
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