Web browsers are a way of life for many of us. For some, a day without using a browser would be a day off. Others may use the Web for entertainment, research, homework, or just a break from the routine. Regardless of how often you use a browser, at one point you had to make a decision about which browser to use. And it came down to the big two, Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Of course, some of you checked out the other browsers, but according to statistics, the majority of you ended up using Netscape Navigator to cruise around the Internet.
Since Netscape came out with the Navigator in October of 1994, the Web has basically just been trying to keep up. Netscape has always set the standard for HTML. Sites all over the Web are flashing "This Site is best viewed with Netscape Navigator" to visitors, letting them know that to get the most out of their site, they should be using Netscape Navigator. Microsoft has stepped up the scale on their Internet Explorer in the last year, incorporating all the latest Netscape-isms into each release of the Explorer along with their own proprietary HTML tags. Netscape just released the newest Netscape Navigator, 3.0, with a whole new batch of bells and whistles. Already I'm starting to see the signs. The Web is beginning to change again, trying to keep up with Netscape. Let's take a look at Navigator 3.0 and discover how it can affect the way you browse and create content for the Web.
I tested Netscape Navigator 3.0 on a 686 150Mz machine with 16 MB RAM, running Microsoft Windows 95.
Netscape has been providing the browsing public with a simple yet effective means of navigating the World Wide Web for the last two years. Although Netscape makes many different products, including Web servers, HTML editors, and browsers, most people simply refer to the Netscape Navigator browser as "Netscape."
This spring, the public was allowed to start testing Netscape Navigator 3.0, code -named "Atlas". Since then it hasn't changed much, at least externally. It still has the same familiar look and feel it's had since 2.0 came out earlier in the year. In this new release, however, Netscape has further widened the scope of HTML by adding:
Navigator is available for download from their Web site, as always, for evaluation. The Standard version is the basic browser; the larger version is the same browser with several plug-ins already installed and ready to use. The included plug-ins are:
- Frame Border Control
- Multi-Column Text
- Horizontal and Vertical Spacing
- Strikeout and Underline Text
- Font tags to Specify Font
- Support table cell background colors
Navigator 3.0 installed from the four floppy disks without a hitch, using my Bookmarks and personal settings from a previous version. A Netscape program group was created as well as a Navigator icon on my Windows' desktop. The boxed version of Navigator comes with a comprehensive Netscape Navigator Handbook, covering every aspect of using the Navigator, from the email reader to the Newsreader, to setting up Navigator colors, personal settings, the Navigator menu, (including all aspects of the Preferences section), and a lengthy Question and Answer section. Online documents are available on the Web site.
- Live3D (VRML)
- CoolTalk (Web phone/Whiteboard)
- LiveAudio (AU, AIFF, WAV, MIDI)
- LiveVideo (AVI)
- QuickTime (MOV)
On to Navigator's new features. Netscape is fueling the revolution of the Web from text to multi-media. With Live3D, which is included with the full version of the Navigator 3.0, virtual reality is only a browser away. Until recently, if a user went to a site that featured VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language), Netscape had to start up a separate application to handle, interpret and present the page. With Live3D, the VRML page is presented within the Navigator window. The VRML can even be specified from within an <EMBED> tag, which presents the VRML in a smaller window within the page (see Figure 1). The size of the embedded VRML is specified within the EMBED tag itself.
Using the Internet for long distance calls is a popular idea. If the public can use their Internet connections to connect to sites in other states, not to mention foreign countries, why shouldn't they be able to talk to their friends and associates? CoolTalk is Netscape's answer to this interest. CoolTalk allows users to use their sound card and speaker to connect with other CoolTalk users anywhere in the connected world. So far, no telco-Internet standard has been created that would standardize all the Internet-phones out there. Netscape's product will be coming with CoolTalk and eventually there will be millions of other CoolTalk users. CoolTalk also features a Whiteboard that allows each participant in the conference to draw and use text and graphical elements, providing a slick drawing board mechanism that is available while you are still surfing the Web.
LiveAudio extends the capabilities of the Netscape Audio Player to include WAV and MIDI along with AU and AIFF files. The MIDI quality is impressive, although it will only be as good as your sound card and speakers. LiveVideo and QuickTime add video capabilities to Netscape with support for MOV and AVI files. No external applications need to be called for multimedia from within Netscape Navigator 3.0 (though the capability is still there to call external programs). Although LiveVideo and QuickTime are remarkable, they are still no threat to VCRs, as the video speed is fairly slow on a 28.8 connection.
There are many new Developer's features in Navigator 3.0 as well. The new Frame Border tag, FRAMEBORDER=NO (or YES), allows designers to create framed Web sites with no visible frames. A framed page created with no frame borders appears to the viewer as a single, frameless page. Multi-Column Text, <multicol>, allows developers to create easy-to-read Web pages using the same multi-column layout that magazine and newspaper readers are familiar with (see figure 2).
Many Web developers will be happy about the new Horizontal and Vertical Spacing tags, <SPACER>, that are included with Navigator 3.0. Until now, Web developers have used work arounds and hacks, such as using single pixel transparent gifs with WIDTH and HEIGHT information in the IMAGE tag to create space around other images and text. Now the size of blank space can be specified using an HTML tag. Another new tag is Underline Text tag, <U>, which causes a line to appear under the text, and Strikeout, which, although already supported, now works with the new tag, <S>, as well as the old one, <STRIKE>.
In a move that will allow developers to have even more control in the design of Web pages, you can specify the particular font to be displayed using the font tag, <FONT FACE="font1,font2,fontN"> </FONT>. If font 1 is not available, font 2 is used. If none of the specified fonts are available on the client machine, the default font is used. Another Internet Explorer tag that's found its way to Navigator is the bgcolor attribute for a table cell. This allows designers to create tables that feature individual background colors in table cells. I've already seen quite a few sites using this new feature.
Netscape is entering a whole new arena with Navigator 3.0. As a Webmaster, I've made it a point to evaluate many different browsers. With my hat off to Mosaic in respect, the only two browsers to seriously concern yourself with now are Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. While I feel that Microsoft is slowly gaining on Netscape, the Navigator is clearly the leader in the browser field, setting the standards that the Web will be built with. Should you upgrade to Navigator 3.0? Unquestionably, and without a doubt! Internet users are not looking back. They want more, faster, with better content, NOW. Netscape's Navigator is providing the ability and the means. The ball is in your court.