Netscape's next generation
New Web browser and related software may spell success for Java
In addition to preparing a major upgrade to its Navigator Web browser, Netscape Communications Corp., the Mountain View, CA company that dominates the Web browser market, is working to complete two products intended to simplify and enhance the development Web pages and the tools used to manage them.
The first public demo of Java applets running on an alpha of Navigator 2.0 that occurred during Unix Expo in New York in September generated considerable enthusiasm from a turn-away crowd at Sun's Java Day session. The fact that Sun's Java programmers worked long hours to help prepare this demo hints at the prominence Java will enjoy in the forthcoming Netscape application suite.
Netscape's latest crop of products includes:
Via an inline HTML tag, files such as movies and PDF documents play and display embedded within the HTML documents rather than in separate windows. The new browser also promises enhanced performance through client-side image maps, progressive JPEG images, and streaming audio and video via inline viewers. Security features include digital ID, secure courier for financial transactions, and secure e-mail and news.
Along with enhanced e-mail, newsgroup features, and support for Java applets, Navigator 2.0 features advanced layout capabilities including "frames," which enable the display of multiple, independently scrollable panels on a single screen. Each can have a different Web address (URL) as its source.
Netscape says the scripts can be inserted almost anywhere in HTML documents, and points out that Navigator has an embedded script interpreter.
The public demo of Java applets running
on an alpha version of Navigator 2.0
occurred during Unix Expo in New York.
Recipe for success
As impressive as the new version of the Navigator browser promises to be Navigator Gold and LiveWire may have the biggest impact on Netscape's future. Moreover, LiveWire, with its scripting language, could catapult Sun's Java from an exciting concept to popular success. While Netscape's Java browser will almost certainly accelerate Java's acceptance, LiveWire promises to lower the level of programming skill needed to develop Java applets, as well as make the task easier for expert programmers. A Java browser isn't of much value without compelling applets, which to date are in short supply.
Sun has seen its technical innovations flop in the past, despite facing inferior alternatives. (Consider NeWS, Sun's proprietary windowing environment that lost a standards battle with the X Window System.) With Java, the company hopes to avoid another blunder. By tying Java into the leading Web browser company's first development environment, Sun and Netscape may indeed give Sun's latest technology the critical mass it needs to prosper as a commercial product.
Netscape bills LiveWire as an environment that "expands Netscape's client/server software line... into a full operating system for the Internet." Of course, customers ultimately will decide whether Netscape's latest batch will satisfy their cravings. And questions remain regarding the ability to effectively implement a Java interpreter across all major platforms. But the first step -- a taste test -- is already underway.
As this story was written in late September, Netscape was preparing to offer public beta versions for Macintosh, Windows, and the X Window System at its Web site; the company expects formal release versions of its newly announced products to ship in December.
Editor's note: IDG, the Boston-based parent company of SunWorld Online, owns a minority interest in Netscape Communications Corp.
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